Penn Board Chair Scott Bok steps down following Liz Magill’s resignation

After months of increasing scrutiny and controversy over her response to antisemitism at the Ivy League institution, Magill’s tenure came to an end via university-wide email on Saturday.

Elizabeth Magill at her inauguration as Penn president in 2022.

Elizabeth Magill at her inauguration as Penn president in 2022. Wikimedia Commons

After months of controversy, unrest and growing anger over how she responded to an increasingly fraught environment at the University of Pennsylvania, President Elizabeth Magill’s resignation was announced Saturday afternoon in an email from Board of Trustees Chair Scott Bok that went out to the university community.

“I write to share that President Liz Magill has voluntarily tendered her resignation as President of the University of Pennsylvania. She will remain a tenured faculty member at Penn Carey Law,” Bok’s email read in part.

Magill’s rapid downfall can be traced to September, when her administration offered a response to concerns from the Jewish community over a number of participants in the Palestine Writes Festival – including speakers with a clear and persistent record of antisemitic remarks – that was considered inadequate by both the Jewish and Muslim communities.

Following the Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis and kidnapping of 240 civilians by the terrorist group Hamas that resulted in the current war between Hamas and Israel, Penn’s campus became a hotbed of antisemitic activity that has caused some Jewish students to sue the school for not protecting them, and a rapidly expanding number of donors and potential donors to revoke their commitments to the school. The latest and most substantial example of this pullback – Ross Stevens’ effort to claw back a $100 million commitment to the school and his subsequent call for Magill to resign – came after what was widely seen as Magill’s disastrous appearance in front of a House committee on Tuesday.

During her testimony, Magill was 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.

While the other two university presidents to testify at the House hearing have also come under withering scrutiny and condemnation for their similar inability to condemn antisemitic language, Magill was widely seen as being in the most immediate danger of losing her job – with criticism coming from the White House, Gov. Josh Shapiro and members of Congress on top of donors.

Magill tried walking her statements back in a video released the next day, but the damage was done.

While Magill has yet to issue a direct statement or make an appearance, the email from Bok included the following comment attributed to her: “It has been my privilege to serve as President of this remarkable institution. It has been an honor to work with our faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members to advance Penn’s vital missions.”

Magill’s tenure came to an end barely 18 months after it began in July 2022. Shortly after Magill’s resignation, Bok also resigned as chair of Penn’s board of trustees. 

“While I was asked to remain in that role for the remainder of my term in order to help with the presidential transition, I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart,” Bok said in a statement obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian

“The world should know that Liz Magill is a very good person and a talented leader who was beloved by her team. She is not the slightest bit antisemitic … Working with her was one of the great pleasures of my life. Worn down by months of relentless external attacks, she was not herself last Tuesday,” Bok wrote. “Over prepared and over lawyered given the hostile forum and high stakes, she provided a legalistic answer to a moral question, and that was wrong,” Bok said. “It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony.”

This story has been updated to include additional information about Scott Bok’s resignation.

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