University Presidents Face Backlash, Calls to Resign, After Congressional Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Backlash is growing after presidents of some of the nation’s top academic institutions struggled to give concrete answers about genocide in a House committee hearing this week. 

Democrats and Republicans in Congress and across the country are giving leaders of top academic institutions an “F” after their recent testimony. The letter grade can also be used to describe the fireworks and frustration at Tuesday’s hearing. 

“It is a context dependent decision, Congresswoman,” replied Liz Magill, the President of the University of Pennsylvania, to a question by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R- NY) asking whether the calling for the genocide of Jews violates university policy. 

“It’s a context dependent decision? That’s your testimony today- calling for the genocide of Jews is depending upon the context? This is the easiest question to answer ‘Yes,’ Ms. McGill,” said Stefanik to Magill in the heated exchange. 

“It depends on the context,” said Harvard President, Claudine Gay on Tuesday.

“It does not depend on the context. The answer is ‘Yes.’ And this is why you should resign. These are unacceptable answers across the board,” said Stefanik. 

Magill and the presidents of MIT and Harvard are facing sharp backlash and growing pressure to resign. Since Tuesday, state and federal leaders on both sides of the aisle have expressed their disappointment. 

“It should not be hard to condemn genocide,” said Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro (D- PA) at a press conference earlier this week. “She needed to give a one-word answer, and she failed to meet that test,” Shapiro added, when asked about Magill’s responses. 

“President Magill’s comments yesterday were offensive, but equally offensive was what she didn’t say. The right to free speech is fundamental, but calling for the genocide of Jews is antisemitic and harassment, full stop,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D- PA) on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday. 

“Condemning antisemitism shouldn’t be hard. This week, my PA GOP colleagues and I signed an open letter calling on University of Pennsylvania’s board to relieve President Elizabeth Magill of her duties,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R- PA) in an X post Friday. 

Magill shared a video on Wednesday, attempting to clarify her remarks. 

“In that moment, I was focused on our university’s longstanding policies- aligned with the U.S. Constitution- which say that speech alone, is not punishable,” said Magill. “The irrefutable fact that a call for genocide of Jewish people is a call for some of the most terrible violence human beings can perpetrate.” 

The UPenn board of trustees held an emergency meeting Thursday as major donors threatened to pull donations.  

Also on Thursday, Rep. Stefanik, the House Republican Conference Chair, announced an official Congressional investigation to hold the schools accountable. In a statement, she said: 

“After this week’s pathetic and morally bankrupt testimony by university presidents when answering my questions, the Education and Workforce Committee is launching an official Congressional investigation with the full force of subpoena power into Penn, MIT, & Harvard and others. We will use our full Congressional authority to hold these schools accountable for their failure on the global stage.”