20231210 liz magill
Liz Magill, President of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building. Image Credit: AFP

Washington: The president of an Ivy League university stepped down Saturday in the wake of a firestorm of criticism after a congressional hearing on the rise in anti-Semitism on US campuses.

University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill "voluntarily tendered her resignation," the chair of the university's board of trustees Scott Bok announced.

Bok then stepped down himself, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the campus student newspaper.

Magill was among three presidents of elite universities who faced withering critism for their testimony Tuesday during a congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism.

The trio gave long-winded, lawyerly and seemingly evasive answers at the hearing when asked whether students who call for the "genocide of Jews" on their campuses violate codes of student conduct.

Blowback was rapid and intense.

Seventy-four lawmakers wrote letters demanding the immediate removal of Magill and the presidents of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Harvard's president, Claudine Gay, apologized afterward for failing to more strongly condemn threats of anti-Semitic violence on her campus.

"When words amplify distress and pain, I don't know how you could feel anything but regret," Gay later told the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

Magill faced even more scathing criticism.

Pennsylvania's Democratic governor called her performance "absolutely shameful," and a major donor said he would rescind a $100 million donation to the university's Wharton School of Business.

Bok, who helms the university's board of trustees - a body that handles major governance issues - said Magill made "a very unfortunate misstep" as he announced her departure.

"She was not herself last Tuesday," Bok said in the statement published by the school paper.

"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."

"It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony."

He said his own resignation was "effective immediately."

In Bok's note to the campus, he said Magill would stay in her post until an interim president is appointed and would remain on the faculty of the university's law school.

Anti-Semitism and hate crimes have risen in the United States and on university campuses since the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants and the ensuing war in Gaza.

With passions inflamed on campuses, a broader debate has taken place about when freedom of speech on campuses turns into conduct that threatens others.