The president of a top university in the United States has resigned after a backlash over her testimony at a congressional hearing on rising anti-Semitism on campuses.
University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill stepped down on Saturday after blowback over her failure to say, under repeated questioning, that calling for genocide against Jews would violate the school’s code of conduct.
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“I write to share that President Liz Magill has voluntarily tendered her resignation as President of the University of Pennsylvania,” Scott Bok, chair of the university’s board of trustees, said in a statement posted on the university’s website.
Bok said Magill made “a very unfortunate misstep” and she was “not herself” during her appearance before Congress.
Bok, who also announced his own resignation, said Magill would stay on until an interim president is found and remain a tenured faculty member at the university’s law school.
Magill, Harvard University President Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth came under heavy criticism after appearing before a US House of Representatives committee on Tuesday to testify about anti-Semitism on university campuses.
Asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews would breach university policy on bullying and harassment, the three university heads declined to give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer, saying they were committed to free expression and that it would depend on the context, such as whether the speech was targeted at individuals.
Under repeated questioning by New York Republican lawmaker Elise Stefanik, Magill said it would be a “context-dependent decision” and “if the speech becomes conduct, it can be harassment”.
The testimony sparked calls from donors and politicians on both sides of the aisle for the university leaders’ resignations, with Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor calling Magill’s comments “absolutely shameful”.
Magill on Wednesday released a video expressing regret, saying she had allowed free speech concerns to outweigh other considerations and that she would consider a call for genocide to be harassment or intimidation.
Gay on Friday apologised for not taking anti-Semitc rhetoric on campus more seriously and expressed regret that her words had amplified “distress and pain”.
US universities have been accused of not keeping Jewish students safe from rising anti-Semitism amid Israel’s war in Gaza.
Hate crime against both Jews and Muslims have risen significantly since the war began, according to US law enforcement officials.
The Anti-Defamation League reported a 400 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the fortnight following Palestinian armed group Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel.
The Jewish advocacy group, however, has been accused of conflating the criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said on Thursday that reports of bias motivated by anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian or anti-Arab sentiment rose by 172 percent in the two months following October 7.