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Penn President Liz Magill and two other university presidents fielded questions from the United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 5. Credit: Ethan Young

Read the full recap of the hearing here.

WASHINGTON — Penn President Liz Magill testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 5 in an almost five-hour-long hearing. 

Along with Harvard University President Claudine Gay, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, and American University history and Jewish studies professor Pamela Nadell, Magill delivered an opening testimony and then fielded various questions from committee members about antisemitism on campus.

Here are four takeaways from the hearing.

1. Magill’s opening testimony touched upon recent events, including a Sunday protest for Gaza

Minutes before the testimony before the House Committee began, Magill shared her written testimony in an email to the Penn community.

Her email acknowledged the recent protest for Gaza — which included several businesses near campus being graffitied with messages both condemning Penn and expressing pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel sentiments and protestors chanting outside the restaurant Goldie’s Center City location. 

“This hearing takes place just two days after the Philadelphia community witnessed in horror the hateful words and actions of protestors who marched through Center City and near Penn’s campus,” Magill wrote in the message. "These protestors directly targeted a Center City business that is Jewish and Israeli owned — a disturbing and shameful act of antisemitism."

2. Magill responded to repeated questions about student safety concerns and free speech

Magill was questioned about student safety on campus, with representatives providing anecdotes about students feeling unsafe. 

Glenn Grothman (R-W.I.) asked why Jewish students do not feel safe on campus — referencing a specific student he is familiar with — to which Magill responded that she was “devastated” to hear about this incident. She added that the safety of students was her “top concern.”

Magill emphasized the need to balance the principles of safety and free expression on Penn’s campus and repeated that the U.S. Constitution guides Penn’s approach to free speech. 

“In these times, these competing principles can be difficult to balance, but I am determined to get it right, and we must get this right,” Magill said. “The stakes are too high, and Penn would not be what it is today without the strong Jewish community, past, present, and future.”

3. Committee members asked Magill how Penn treats antisemitic rhetoric and conduct from student groups and professors

Committee members asked Magill about the controversial Palestine Writes Literature Festival that occurred on campus in September, which several national groups and Penn community members criticized for including antisemitic speakers.

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-S.C.) said, "the fear Jewish students are facing is real and justified." Manning later said she wanted to ask Magill if Jewish students felt safe after the Palestine Writes Festival.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) repeatedly asked Magill whether individuals who call for the genocide of Jewish people violate Penn’s policies or code of conduct.

“If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment,” Magill told Stefanik, later adding: “It is a context-dependent decision."

This response prompted Stefanik to continue probing, who said that Magill’s lack of a definitive response was “unacceptable.”

4. Penn students join Magill in D.C. — expressing disappointment in her leadership from multiple angles

The hearing drew a range of Penn students to D.C., including College senior Eyal Yakoby, who spoke at a House Republican leadership press conference with other Jewish college students about his experiences with antisemitism on Penn’s campus, and members of progressive Jewish student group — Penn Chavurah — who held a rally and press conference along with other progressive and pro-Palestinian Jewish college groups.

“I, along with most of campus, sought refuge in our rooms as classmates and professors chanted proudly for the genocide of Jews,” Yakoby said, referring to Sunday night’s protests.

Penn Chavurah member Lily Brenner, an Engineering sophomore and part of the group rallying outside, expressed concern that the perspective of non-Zionist Jews “aren’t being heard” by University administration.