The Lead

Penn president under pressure to resign following testimony before Congress about antisemitism

By: - December 7, 2023 7:24 pm

Elizabeth Magill, president of the University of Pennsylvania. (University photo)

The president of the University of Pennsylvania is facing increasing pressure to step down from her position, after giving testimony before a U.S. House committee Tuesday about antisemitism on college campuses that Gov. Josh Shapiro called “absolutely shameful.”

Elizabeth Magill appeared before the House Committee on Education along with the presidents of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The three were peppered with questions by the GOP-led committee about what kind of speech violates their schools’ code of conduct. 

At one point, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), asked Magill if “specifically calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?” 

Magill initially replied “If it is directed and severe, pervasive, it is harassment.” 

Stefanik said, “So the answer is yes.”

Magill replied “It is a context-dependent decision, Congresswoman.”

In a video posted to the university’s website Wednesday, Magill sought to clarify her testimony. 

“I was not focused on, but I should have been, the irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate,” she said in the video. “It’s evil—plain and simple.”

During a visit to Goldie’s restaurant in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Shapiro called Magill’s statement “unacceptable,” adding “It should not be hard to condemn genocide.” Pennsylvania politicians on both sides of the aisle criticized Magill’s remarks, with Democratic U.S. Sen John Fetterman calling them “embarrassing” and state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin) demanding she resign.

A donor and alumni to the university reportedly rescinded a $100 million donation on Thursday pointing to Magill’s comments before Congress as the reason.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chair of the House education committee said in a statement that it was “opening a formal investigation into the learning environments at Harvard, UPenn, and MIT and their policies and disciplinary procedures.”

Foxx called the testimony by the university presidents “absolutely unacceptable.”

The University of Pennsylvania did not reply to a request for comment from the Capital-Star on Thursday.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly