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Penn’s board chair resigns as antisemitism testimony draws backlash

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees, Scott Bok, resigned immediately during a trustees meeting Saturday evening, just hours after Bok announced Liz Magill’s departure as president in just her second year.

Bok, a supporter of Magill’s, defended her through several months of criticism over the university’s handling of various perceived acts of antisemitism.

He called her a good person and talented leader who is not “the slightest bit antisemitic,” but gave a legalistic and wooden response after being worn down by months of criticism and hours of questioning in the congressional hearing.

“Following that, it became clear that her position was no longer tenable, and she and I concurrently decided that it was time for her to exit,” Bok said in a statement also announcing his resignation.

Calls for Magill’s firing exploded after Tuesday’s testimony in a U.S. House committee on antisemitism on college campuses, where she appeared with the presidents of Harvard University and MIT.

Universities across the U.S. have been accused of failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza.

The three presidents were called before the committee to answer those accusations. But their lawyerly answers drew renewed blowback from opponents, focused particularly on a line of questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who repeatedly asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate Penn’s code of conduct.

“If the speech turns into conduct it can be harassment, yes,” Magill said. Pressed further, Magill told Stefanik, “It is a context-dependent decision, congresswoman.”

Harvard President Claudine Gay and MIT President Sally Kornbluth gave similar responses to Stefanik, and Bok pointed that out.

Magill made a “very unfortunate misstep — consistent with that of two peer university leaders sitting alongside her — after five hours of aggressive questioning before a congressional committee,” Bok said.

In a statement Saturday, Stefanik said Magill’s “forced resignation” is the “bare minimum of what is required” and said Harvard and MIT should follow suit.

“One down. Two to go,” Stefanik said, adding that “this is only the very beginning of addressing the pervasive rot of antisemitism that has destroyed the most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions in America.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. said Magill’s resignation allows Penn to “chart a new course in addressing antisemitism on campus.”

Bok, chairman and CEO of investment bank Greenhill & Co., said he was asked to remain to help with the transition to a new president, but decided that now was the best time for him to leave.

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Associated Press writers Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, New Jersey, and Phil Marcelo in New York contributed to this report.

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