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Scott Bok at the Board of Trustees meeting on Nov. 3.

Credit: Ethan Young

Scott Bok stepped down from his position as the chair of the University Board of Trustees, according to a statement from Bok provided to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

The announcement was made at a meeting of the trustees at 5 p.m. on Dec. 9 — just minutes after Penn President Liz Magill's resignation.

"I am on a trustee call now," one source familiar with the meeting told the DP while he was on the call. "[Bok] just resigned."

Bok's resignation is effective immediately. Penn appointed Vice Chair Julie Platt as interim chair and will appoint a new chair before the start of the spring semester.

"While I was asked to remain in that role for the remainder of my term in order to help with the presidential transition, I concluded that, for me, now was the right time to depart," he said in a statement.

Bok announced Magill's resignation in an email to the Penn community, thanking her for her service. In his statement, he said Magill made a very "unfortunate misstep" alongside the two other presidents at Tuesday's congressional hearings, and it became clear that Magill's position was "no longer tenable." Magill and Bok decided "concurrently" that it was time for Magill's exit.

"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," Bok wrote in regards to the hearing. "It made for a dreadful 30-second sound bite in what was more than five hours of testimony."

Magill's response to a question from Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) during the recent congressional hearing on Tuesday has led to mounting scrutiny of University leadership.

During the hearing, Magill said it was "context dependent" when asked whether individuals calling for the genocide of Jewish people violate Penn’s code of conduct, in reference to student protestors on campus chanting, "Intifada revolution." 

This response prompted Stefanik to continue probing, and Magill ultimately reiterated that calling for the genocide of Jews "can be harassment." 

"The world should know that Liz Magill is a very good person and a talented leader who was beloved by her team. She is not the slightest bit antisemitic," Bok wrote. "Working with her was one of the great pleasures of my life. Worn down by months of relentless external attacks, she was not herself last Tuesday."

The University's "Free Speech FAQs" detail Penn's guidelines governing hate speech. These rules state that speech can only be disciplined by the University if "the inflammatory speech intentionally and effectively provokes a crowd to immediately carry out violent and unlawful action."

Bok — a 1981 College and Wharton graduate, and 1984 University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School graduate — began serving as chair on July 1, 2021, succeeding David Cohen, who had served as chair since November 2009. Bok oversaw the presidential transition between Amy Gutmann, who is now the United States ambassador to Germany, and Magill, who has served as president since July 2022.

"I wish Liz well in her future endeavors. I believe that in the fullness of time people will come to view the story of her presidency at Penn very differently than they do today," Bok wrote. "I hope that some fine university will in due course be wise enough to give her a second chance, in a more supportive community, to lead. I equally hope that, after a well deserved break, she wants that role."

This resignation comes after months of criticism of Magill and Bok over the University's response to the Palestine Writes Literature Festival, the Israel-Hamas War, and antisemitism on campus — along with Magill's recent statements at the congressional hearing.

Bok allegedly pressured Wharton Board of Advisors Chair Marc Rowan and at least three trustees to step down after they publicly criticized the University's response to the Palestine Writes festival, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported in October. 

In a statement to the DP on Oct. 12, Bok disputed Rowan's allegations, saying that the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees told two trustees who signed onto a public letter criticizing the University that “they could consider voluntarily resigning, thereby freeing [them] from all the constraints involved in serving on a board.”

On Oct. 16, Bok wrote a guest column for the DP where he responded to Rowan's allegations and called on the Penn community to work together and move forward in difficult times.

Also in October, Platt released a statement to the DP in response to Rowan's allegations, saying that she has had "full confidence" in the leadership of Bok and Magill.

In her statement, Platt added that the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees had “unanimously endorsed” the steps Penn has taken to respond to acts of antisemitism.

“The University has publicly committed to unprecedented steps to further combat antisemitism on its campus, reaffirmed deep support for our Jewish community, and condemned the devastating and barbaric attacks on Israel by Hamas," Platt wrote.

Vahan Gureghian, who resigned from the Board of Trustees in protest of University leadership, wrote to the DP that the action plan "is a good first step in the University’s road to recovery from the terrible controversy that has crippled this once great institution.”

However, he said that it took too much time and pressure for Magill to announce the plan. 

“The silence over the past few weeks is indicative of these leaders just hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass,” Gureghian wrote.

A meeting of the trustees was scheduled for Sunday, according to the source, who also estimated that there were approximately a dozen "explicit calls" for Bok to step down. Bok extended a previously scheduled meeting of the trustees for next Thursday from one to two hours, although he did not foresee how a decision on Magill's future could be made before then, the source said.

Read Bok's full message about his resignation here.

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