(Bloomberg) -- Pressure is growing on University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill to quit as alumni, donors and lawmakers demand a change in leadership over how she’s handled antisemitism on campus, part of a broader crisis that’s engulfed three of the world’s most elite universities.
The Penn board plans to meet Sunday at 5pm with Magill’s future on the line after days of lobbying for and against her, said two people with knowledge of the matter. The board is currently divided and may not reach a decision this weekend, they said, asking not to be identified as the discussions are private.
Apollo Global Management Inc.’s Marc Rowan, head of the board of Penn’s Wharton business school, has for weeks urged Magill, and Scott Bok, chair of the board of trustees, to step down. But criticism has intensified after Magill’s Dec. 5 Congressional appearance, when the constitutional law expert stumbled over whether calling for genocide against Jews would violate university policy.
The Wharton board — comprising a who’s who of finance including Josh Harris, Jamie Dinan and David Blitzer — has held “eight extraordinary sessions” focused mostly on student safety since Nov. 16, according to a letter sent this week to Magill after the hearing.
“Our board respectfully suggests to you and the board of trustees that the University requires new leadership with immediate effect,” they wrote. The Wharton Undergraduate Executive Board also said it stands with them.
A Penn spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Magill, Harvard University’s Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth have been excoriated by politicians, business leaders and alumni since they testified before the US House Education and the Workforce Committee on Tuesday.
The three spent hours stressing the need to balance freedom of speech while providing a safe environment for students, but failed to say outright that calling for the genocide of Jews is against school policy. Instead they offered widely-panned legal responses that quickly went viral on social media.
Magill released a video to clarify her remarks, saying she should have been focused on the “irrefutable fact”’ that such a call is “some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate.”
Gay issued a clarification and said she was sorry in an interview with the Harvard Crimson. Kornbluth hasn’t commented publicly though the executive committee of MIT Corp. said she has its “full and unreserved support.”
Even with the clarifications, apologies and show of support, the onslaught of disapproval hasn’t abated.
More than 70 federal lawmakers demanded the dismissal of the three in a letter sent to the governing boards of the universities on Friday.
“The world is watching — you can stand with your Jewish students and faculty or you can choose the side of dangerous antisemitism,” Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and Jared Moskowitz, a Florida Democrat, said in the letter.
Read more: Lawmakers Demand Harvard, Penn, MIT Presidents Be Removed
Magill, a Fargo, North Dakota native who only joined Penn in July 2022 after working largely in academia, may be the most vulnerable of the group.
Pennsylvania politicians including Democratic Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman, and Governor Josh Shapiro slammed her performance. Republican Congressman Guy Reschenthaler, who represents an area outside Pittsburgh, was among those who wrote a letter saying that Magill was a “disgrace” to the commonwealth. They urged Bok, also head of investment bank Greenhill & Co., to fire her.
Opposition to the pair has been concentrated at Wharton, the first business school established in the US and arguably the most prestigious component of the Philadelphia-based institution.
While more than 23,000 full-time students attend the Ivy League university, the business school is an outsized presence on campus. With about 1,700 undergraduates and about 2,400 graduate students, it’s a pipeline to top jobs in business and finance.
Alumni include the world’s richest person Elon Musk and Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai, as well as former president Donald Trump and Leonard Lauder.
Rowan, a Wharton alum who along with his wife Carolyn has donated $50 million to the school, has led a campaign to oust Magill and Bok since the days after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7., killing more than 1,200 people and taking hundreds hostage. He recommended donors close their checkbooks until the pair stepped down.
Read more: Penn Donor Pulls $100 Million Gift Over Antisemitism
He was dismayed even before war broke out in the Middle East for allowing a Palestinian literary festival in late September, close to the Jewish high holidays.
The three-day gathering was held in a center named for Dick Wolf, the creator of Law and Order, and featured speakers Rowan said had a history of antisemitic rhetoric. The event drew condemnation from prominent alumni including Wolf.
The campus, which has multiple buildings and schools named for Jewish donors to the university including Walter Annenberg, Ronald Perelman and Stuart Weitzman, has since grown even more divided as Israel continues to pummel the Gaza strip.
Groups such as Penn Against the Occupation and the Philly Palestine Coalition have led protests and chants have been shouted on campus including “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a phrase that has been interpreted as calling for the expulsion of Jews from Israel.
Images have been projected onto Huntsman Hall and Irvine Auditorium with phrases including “Liz Magill is complicit in genocide,” and “10,000 murdered by Israeli occupation since October 7.” The health authority run by Hamas, which the US and the European Union have labeled a terrorist organization, has said more than 17,000 people have now been killed.
Alongside protests, vandalism and graffiti have also increased, including swastikas and hate speech comparing Jews to Nazis, which Magill has repeatedly condemned.
Rowan had allies on Wharton’s board but Magill and Bok were initially able to brush away attempts to force them out with the widespread support of the Penn board of trustees, a larger group of almost 50 people.
While there is some crossover with Wharton, such as hedge fund manager Dinan and Blackstone Inc.’s Blitzer, Penn’s board is drawn from a much broader cross-section of American business, politics and education.
Trustees include heirs of cosmetics company Estee Lauder, Pennsylvania Governor Shapiro and William P. Carey II, whose family donations prompted a change to the name of the law school.
The board though has grown less supportive of Bok and Magill in part because of the political pressure and the threat the school could lose access to some federal funding, said two people with ties to the school.
--With assistance from Amanda Albright.
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