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Columnist Spencer Gibbs reflects on the circumstances leading up to the firing of Liz Magill. Credit: Ethan Young

Dear readers,

Given that some of you in the future will undoubtedly be ultra-rich donors, congresspeople, or just generally interested in pressing your thumb on the scale for one reason or another, I wanted to provide you with a guide for how to fire an Ivy League president. A new precedent has been set through practically forcing the ninth president of Penn, Elizabeth Magill, to resign, so it is important that you learn how easy it is.

While I may not know much, given my education at Penn has been allegedly infected by “intellectual and moral rot” [54:08] over the past semester, clearly I must be an expert on at least this much, so allow me to provide you with some advice.

Step 1) Assert your own, nonstandard meaning of words.

It is highly important that, in the weeks and months building up to you demanding resignation or removal of your Ivy League president, that you use contested or non-standard language. The secret in this step is the simple knowledge that nobody is going to read most of what you say anyway, but they will pay attention to the soundbite that can come from it down the line. Representative Elise Stefanik provides a masterclass in how to do this. For example, in the now notorious Congressional hearing, she asserted [1:48:51] that “intifada” (which literally means “shaking off” of Israeli occupation) means genocide. Regardless of your position on the issue, this understanding of the genocide is not standard with common definitions of the term. 

Then, when you ask your president a question, they will be unable to answer it succinctly with the common linguistic understanding. It is even better if you can make them answer it under oath, so maybe they can perjure themself. Is this a bad faith way of asking questions? Of course! But you are asking questions without actually caring about the answers, so why would it matter?

Step 2) Ask yes or no questions with loaded premises.

The sky is blue, yes or no? Yes? Well, what about during a sunset or at night? Congratulations, you may have just perjured yourself.

Americans, especially Republicans, really like “moral clarity.” If you can break things down into a yes or no question, that is almost always a good idea, but the key is to ask a yes or no question while making it impossible to give a yes or no answer. How do you do this? You load premises. The sky is sometimes blue, but make sure to act incredulous when you aren’t given a clear-cut answer to your weighted question. Is the sky blue like right now? On average? Never ask these questions; just make sure that how ever the question is answered that the answer is wrong. 

Step 3) Presume the person you are talking to is guilty before speaking with them.

Regardless of how you try to get your Ivy League president fired, you aren’t going to be able to do it alone. As a result, you need to signal to the people around you that you are right from the get–go. How do you do that? Well, holding a hearing under the guise of finding out more information but really to get your witnesses to “atone” [19:11] is a good start, but you might not be a congressperson. No matter — just make things up! You identify a decrease in a student population which is still overrepresented compared to American population averages? Just suggest it is evidence of systematic discrimination and ignore the fact that admissions are supposedly a zero-sum game with otherwise rising diversity. Say things are causal [23:42] without proof. Just remember — you just need to make people think your president is guilty before they have an opportunity to speak.

Step 4) Have a history of donating lots of money to your school of choice.

This money is of course not to help the students at your alma mater gain a better education. Your donations to the school are specifically so that it will be taken away as needed to influence school policy as you see fit in the future. The more money the better, but you can always pool your resources, which will be even easier to achieve if you convince other people by following the steps provided for you in this guide. Why does the money matter? It matters because if you were just to put out a statement expressing your opinion, even if you are already on a Board, you wouldn’t get attention from nearly every major news agency in the United States, surging your voice to the front page and repeating any citation-less assertions you make.

Step 5) Assert the policies are bad (even if they haven’t changed).

Do you know when Harvard and Penn’s open expression policies were last updated? 1990 and 1993 respectively. Now you might think that would be a problem, since it means the policies haven’t changed in the last 30 years, which accordingly means they weren't a problem during all of the time you spent at your respective Ivy League school. But that doesn’t matter because what you have to realize is that nobody is actually going to read the policies, which means for all practical purposes, they say whatever you want them to say. You can always say that the policies are just not being properly enforced, especially if you have what is arguably a single mistake, but make sure you make the issue seem systematic, especially if you have beef with your school already and you are generally lacking specific evidence of a lack of discipline.

Step 6) Repeat the same points to make them come true.

One of the most valuable tools you have when making assertions is the knowledge that if you make them enough, they will become true, or at the very least true to the people you need to convince. This fact is called the “Illusory Truth effect” and has been used successfully by politicians for years now, but the information age has done nothing to make it any less effective. It does not matter if your arguments are refutable. Make assertions like “How can a University cultivate free speech in any meaningful way if it has taken a stance on every political issue under the sun?,” and even if the answer seems obvious — like having open expression guidelines that allow for speech that the University disagrees with — if you ask that “rhetorical” question enough times it will just be taken for granted that it is impossible.

Step 7) Cite the sources that say what you want (and don’t look at the methodologies).

Despite Step 6, it can still be useful to have the occasional spurts of apparent objectivity while asking bad questions, presuming guilt, making threats, blaming foundational policies, and repeating yourself. Penn has some great classes that can help you learn how to lie with statistics while you’re still here, but in case you have a busy schedule, you can always just cite another source. In the lead up to Magill’s resignation, the FIRE free speech rankings were an often cited, yet highly contested, way of demonstrating some so-called objectivity — mentioned at least four times [24:11, 1:27:44, 1:50:40, 3:27:27] in the Congressional hearing. Rankings like this are perfect since they inherently objectify otherwise subjective sentiments, but you can always just have unsupported anecdotes [1:41:32] and quotes without citations as evidence, too.

Let me be very clear. This guide is not a critique of legitimate concerns about the rise of antisemitism or Islamophobia on campus, contest of claims about a need for ideological diversity, condemnation of those who have accrued wealth, or statement on whether or not I agree that former President Magill should have personally resigned. It is only a guide for how to fire an Ivy League president, since we have now opened the doors for the sways of public opinion to influence academia for many years down the line. Don’t worry, though. I’m sure, if you follow these steps, your voice will be far louder than all the rest.

SPENCER GIBBS is a College and Engineering junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics and systems engineering from Tallahassee, Fla. His email is