As Liz Magill begins her role as Penn's ninth president on Friday, July 1, the Penn community calls on her to take action to address several issues, including Penn's role in West Philadelphia, involvement in climate change, and more.
Magill previously served as executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia from 2019 to 2022. She also served as dean of Stanford Law School from 2012 to 2019. She will succeed Interim President Wendell Pritchett who has served in the role since former University President Amy Gutmann was confirmed as the United States ambassador to Germany on Feb. 8.
Magill will face no shortage of challenges when she assumes the presidency. Over the last year, Penn administration has encountered several instances of controversy, including racially charged comments by Penn Law professor Amy Wax, the movement to save the University City Townhomes, alleged mistreatment of Mackenzie Fierceton, and calls upon Penn to divest from fossil fuels.
On the cusp of Magill’s tenure, members of the Penn community call on her to take action on some of the University’s most significant and pressing issues.
Jeremy Calcarian, a rising sophomore from Hagerstown, Md., encourages Magill to listen to the needs of Penn students and not shy away from contentious subjects.
“I think Penn has had a lot of challenges recently: Amy Wax, the plagiarism issue, controversy with frat houses and sexual harassment … I think rather than ignoring those [problems], Penn students want some sort of way of addressing the situation,” Calcarian said. “I’ve talked to a lot of Penn students and I think they wanted more from Penn in that aspect, and they want to feel heard, so I think feedback [from the administration] is extremely important.”
Chi-ming Yang, an associate professor of English at Penn, spoke about her hopes for the Magill administration to redefine Penn’s role in the West Philadelphia community, specifically relating to the University City Townhomes.
“I think the first thing President Magill should do is to follow up immediately with the Townhomes' Resident Council about some of the promises Wendell Pritchett made on behalf of Penn, which did include his pledge to help residents of the UC Townhomes in their relocation process,” Yang said.
“It’s Penn’s obligation to look out for its neighbors. It is what Penn is always touting … I think this could be a good faith demonstration of the values that she has already gone on record saying that she possesses,” Yang continued.
Rasheda Alexander, a resident of the UC Townhomes, shared how Penn’s history of gentrification in West Philadelphia means that Penn needs to pay reparations to the surrounding community.
“It is time for Penn to give back to the community since they have taken so much. I am not talking about a coat drive, or a food drive to give to struggling families. I am talking about investing in a community of mixed income property which caters not only to those with an area median income of 40% or higher but for low to very low-income individuals as well,” Rasheda said. “Housing is a human right. That will always be my fight.”
Emma Glasser, rising senior and member of the Save the UC Townhomes Coalition, echoed the concerns about Penn’s role within the West Philadelphia community.
“I think one thing Penn can do is make a statement that they are in support of affordable housing and in support of stopping the demolition of these housing complexes,” Glasser said. “Penn can provide resources to the residents who are working to stop the demolition and evictions.”
Ashley Uppani, rising junior and external chair of the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, shared that she hopes Magill takes into consideration the needs of minority groups at Penn.
“I am mostly hoping that she upholds existing commitments to ARCH and the cultural resource centers, specifically because now the provost and vice provost [of University Life] positions are now open, we would like it if she could fill those as soon as possible,” Uppani said. “We are looking for student input to be integrated in terms of the hiring process, just because they both have direct impact on student groups.”
“We are hoping her new leadership brings good things and uplifts the minority community,” Uppani concluded.
Shivam Shah, the Wharton chair of the Class of 2025, shared that he hopes Magill will become involved in student life on campus. “I know [Gutmann] would just walk around and talk with students, so I would love to see if she could continue that,” Shah noted.
Will Krasnow, sophomore class president, highlighted the importance of Magill addressing Penn’s counseling and intervention services program.
“A common gripe of Penn students is that they just don’t feel that the counseling programs quite meet the needs of students, and that’s not necessarily any fault of past administrations or anything … but I think students are eager to see improvements in that regard,” Krasnow said.
Lorraine Ruppert, rising sophomore and co-chair of Student Sustainability Association at Penn, voiced her expectations with the new administrations in terms of divesting from fossil fuels.
“With [Gutmann’s] administration, we focused more on divestment … in the future we are hoping there could be more action in reinvestment into green and renewable energy solutions and back into the Philadelphia community,” Ruppert shared.
She also hopes that Penn will take steps toward climate education: “We’re hoping that Penn can expand its climate programs by putting climate literacy at the forefront of the Penn education by changing one of the core curriculums to climate or expanding the climate courses at Penn.”
Jae Hargest, a campaign coordinator for Fossil Free Penn, explained how Magill has a chance to make a multifaceted impact. “[Depending on] how she uses her time as our president, I think she has a real opportunity to make a change at this school – something Amy Gutmann never really had the audacity to do because of her relationship with the board,” Hargest said.
“I think Magill has a huge opportunity to make real positive change, not just around climate change,” Hargest added. “I think she can be the person this school’s activists have wanted for years: she can pay PILOTs, she can give back to the local community, she can divest from fossil fuels … all these things are so important and connected.”