Status: 10.12.2023, 02:10 a.m.
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens during a House Education Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. © Mark Schiefelbein/AP/dpa
The presidents of three elite universities in the United States are coming under enormous pressure due to their statements on the subject of anti-Semitism at universities. Now one of them is giving up her office.
Washington - After fierce criticism of her appearance at a congressional hearing on anti-Semitism at elite universities in the United States, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, is drawing personal consequences. As the university announced on Saturday, the 57-year-old lawyer is stepping down as president. She is voluntarily resigning from office, but will remain a permanent member of the law school, it said. Initially, no reason was given.
Magill was summoned to a hearing in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday along with the presidents of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The background to this is anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at the facilities since the attack on Israel by the Islamist Hamas on October 7 - which all three presidents also admitted. But they defended themselves against accusations that they were not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism on campus.
A scene in the Republican-led Education Committee in particular caused great outrage. Rep. Elise Stefanik asked the presidents if the "call for genocide of the Jews" at their universities violated policies on bullying and harassment. "That may be, depending on the context," Harvard President Claudine Gay replied. When asked to answer "yes" or "no," Gay again said it would depend on the context.
The other presidents expressed similar sentiments. "If the talking turns into behavior, it can be harassment," Magill said — adding, likewise, "It's a contextual decision." Later, the lawyer tried to explain herself: She said that in her answer at the hearing, she had fixated on the long-standing guideline of her university, which states that speaking alone is not punishable - as it is also written in the constitution.
The pressure on Magill has grown enormously in recent days. In addition to demands for resignation on campus, there were also strong reactions from politicians. Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro called her remarks unacceptable and shameful. A major donor to the University of Pennsylvania withdrew a donation of around 100 million US dollars (about 93 million euros) - and also demanded the resignation.
The dispute over the conflict in the Middle East has also erupted at universities and schools in the United States in recent weeks. U.S. media reported incidents of physical violence or threats thereof. Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti appeared on school grounds. Videos circulating online showed young people tearing down posters with photos of Hamas hostages.
The U.S. Department of Education had launched investigations into anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at U.S. educational institutions, including Harvard, and the elite universities of Columbia and Cornell. Dpa