Penn President Liz Magill will testify today about antisemitism on college campuses before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Magill is scheduled to join Harvard University President Claudine Gay and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth as majority witnesses. The hearing, titled “Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism,” follows weeks of political outcry and public condemnation of Magill and other university presidents’ handling of antisemitism on campuses.
The Daily Pennsylvanian broke down the key context behind Magill's upcoming testimony and what else people can expect at the hearing.
What Magill will cover in her testimony
Magill’s appearance before the House committee comes after a series of antisemitic incidents on Penn’s campus since the start of the fall semester, any of which she will potentially be asked about tomorrow.
These incidents include a spray-painted swastika discovered in Meyerson Hall in the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and an unknown individual who overturned furniture and vandalized Penn Hillel while shouting antisemitic rhetoric. A vacant property run by Campus Apartments on Walnut Street next to Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi's house was also vandalized with antisemitic graffiti in October.
Magill received national attention after the Palestine Writes Literature Festival was held from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24 on Penn's campus. The festival included speakers who allegedly have histories of making antisemitic comments, drawing criticism from campus and national Jewish groups.
The festival, along with the University's response to the Israel-Hamas war, prompted some high-profile donors — including Apollo Global Management CEO Marc Rowan, former ambassador and governor Jon Huntsman, and billionaire Ronald Lauder — to “close their checkbooks” and halt their donations to Penn.
Committee members may question Magill about her recently published action plan to combat antisemitism, which commits to several steps to improve safety and security, engagement, and education on campus. The plan garnered support and skepticism from Penn community members, with some saying that the plan does not provide enough support to either Jewish or Palestinian communities on campus.
Magill may be asked about a pro-Palestinian rally of over 500 attendees on Dec. 3 that traveled adjacent to Penn’s campus along Walnut Street.
At the same time as the march, several businesses on Walnut Street near campus — along the route of the march — were graffitied with messages both condemning Penn and expressing pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiments. Graffiti included the phrases "F**k the [Israel Defense Forces]," "Intifada," “Free Palestine,” and “Blood $." The latter was painted on TD Bank, potentially promoting an antisemitic stereotype that Jews control the banking system.
On Monday, the Committee posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, a video of the protest between 36th and 37th streets and wrote, “In less than 24 hours, the President of UPenn will be sitting before our Committee to answer for antisemitic protests like this.”
Magill may also address hate and discrimination against Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students and community members. When announcing the action plan to combat antisemitism, Magill also created a presidential commission to address the "interconnectedness of antisemitism and other forms of hate" faced by Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities.
"I know that our Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab communities feel unseen and that their pain and grief have not been acknowledged," Magill wrote at the time. "They have also been targeted with harassment and horrific threats. This is unacceptable and must be addressed with equal vigor."
Multiple Penn professors have reported receiving violent threats after participating in pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus.
The other presidents testifying
Magill is not the only relatively new university president testifying. Gay is months into her tenure at Harvard University, and Kornbluth became MIT’s president on Jan. 1, 2023.
Gay received a letter from members of Congress condemning a widely circulated statement made by over 30 Harvard student organizations that called Israel “entirely responsible” for the Hamas terrorist attacks. The letter to Gay was signed by seven members of Congress — across both legislative chambers — who are also Harvard University alumni.
Antisemitic incidents have also occurred at MIT. The New York Post reported that Jewish students were prevented from attending classes by a “blockade of hostile anti-Israel students.”
In a letter to University administration, the MIT Israel Alliance alleged that Jewish and Israeli students were "physically prevented from attending class" by a "hostile" group of student protestors.
Student organizations from at least 54 colleges and universities — including the progressive student group Penn Chavurah, Harvard Jews for Palestine, and MIT Jews for Ceasefire — have signed a "National Statement from Jews for Palestine," advocating against the "dangerous conflation" of antisemitism and pro-Palestinian rhetoric.
"We call on our presidents to shut down Congress’ efforts to denounce criticism of Israel as inherently antisemitic and reaffirm their commitment to freedom of speech, especially speech regarding Palestine," the statement said.
Members of Congress to watch
Magill will testify before the entire Committee, rather than a specific subcommittee, meaning that any of the 50 members can ask questions, according to a press release.
Committee members and Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), Burgess Owens (R-Utah), and Bob Good (R-Va.) are among the 26 members who sent a letter to Magill criticizing her response to Hamas’ attack on Israel last month.
The Committee is chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), who has served as the top Republican on the Committee since January 3, 2023.
In a Dec. 4 press release, Foxx wrote, “Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen countless examples of antisemitic demonstrations on college campuses. Meanwhile, college administrators have largely stood by, allowing horrific rhetoric to fester and grow.”
“By holding this hearing, we are shining the spotlight on these campus leaders and demanding they take the appropriate action to stand strong against antisemitism,” Foxx said.
Magill is not the first sitting president of Penn to testify before a congressional committee.
Under different circumstances, former Penn President Amy Gutmann testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations following her appointment by President Joe Biden to become the next United States ambassador to Germany.
This is also not the first time Magill has testified before Congress. In 2006, when she was a law professor at the University of Virginia, Magill testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need for more empirical analysis of administrative agencies' actions and called for the reinstatement of the Administrative Conference of the United States, a government think tank that lost funding in the 1990s.