Penn President Liz Magill facing growing calls to resign

Magill’s testimony in front of Congress – and her response to antisemitic rhetoric – sparked outcry from local and national leaders

Liz Magill testifies during a House Education and Workforce Committee Hearing on holding campus leaders accountable and confronting antisemitism on Dec. 05, 2023

Liz Magill testifies during a House Education and Workforce Committee Hearing on holding campus leaders accountable and confronting antisemitism on Dec. 05, 2023 Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The fallout from University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill’s widely criticized congressional testimony has grown to the point where Gov. Josh Shapiro expressed concerns with her responses – and lawmakers have begun to call for her resignation. 

The criticism stems from Magill’s response to being repeatedly asked whether calling for the genocide of Jewish people violates Penn’s rules or code of conduct. “It is a context-dependent decision,” she said.

“If that doesn’t violate the policies of Penn, well, there’s something wrong with the policies of Penn that the board needs to get on, or there’s a failure of leadership from the president, or both,” Shapiro said, speaking Wednesday at a press conference at Goldie, a Philadelphia falafel shop, offering support to the business after it was singled out during a ceasefire march over the weekend.

Outrage among community leaders and others grew Wednesday evening, with some elected officials outraged enough by Magill’s testimony calling for Magill to resign. State Sen. Steve Santarsiero, a Democrat from Bucks County, did just that, stating the community has “come too far for someone who would respond in such a manner to be the leader of one of our country’s great research universities.” Santarsiero also said he would not approve any state funding for the university until she resigns. 

“In her congressional hearing yesterday, President Magill was given several chances to clearly state what should be obvious: that should any student call for the genocide of the Jewish People they would not only violate university policy but would be condemned in the strongest possible terms and face expulsion,” Santarsiero said in a statement. “She refused to do so, choosing instead to give what appeared to be a coached response that utterly failed to express the moral clarity that the question demanded. For that reason, I call upon her to resign from her post immediately. To be clear, I will not vote for any state funding for the university until she does so.”

Magill shared a video Wednesday evening in response to public criticism, saying she does view a call for genocide of Jewish people as harassment or intimidation and promising an evaluation of Penn policies.

“In that moment,” Magill said of the hearing, “I was focused on our university’s long-standing policies aligned with the U.S. Constitution, which say that speech alone is not punishable. 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. It’s evil – plain and simple.”

Antisemitic activity on Penn’s campus began reaching new levels in September, when the university hosted the Palestine Writes Literature Festival – an event that featured several speakers accused of antisemitism and coincided with the vandalization of the Penn Hillel. 

Shapiro said Wednesday that he would wait and see what Penn’s board decides to do related to Magill’s testimony and if it reflects the views of the university before considering taking action himself. 

“I’d like to see what they do first before I determine my next steps,” he said. 

In an interview with City & State last month, Shapiro spoke on the rise in antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war, adding that he’s looking at potential actions he can take at the executive level to address the issue. 

“What's happening (in the Middle East) should not be used by anyone as a justification for their antisemitism, nor is it an excuse for Islamophobia or anti-Arab sentiment. I think we all have to stand unified against that,” Shapiro told City & State. “We're working within our administration and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and others to see what, if anything, can be done to better strengthen our approach to combating antisemitism and combating this type of hateful rhetoric.” 

Shapiro also applauded House lawmakers for passing House Bill 1027, which seeks to enhance the state’s laws related to ethnic intimidation. 

“I was pleased to see the House of Representatives expand our ethnic intimidation law,” Shapiro added, urging the Senate to move the bill toward his desk. “I hope the Senate will take that up quickly. There's no reason for them not to.”