When Liz Magill assumed her role as president at Penn, I wrote her an email asking about something as benign as her writing style. To my surprise and delight, Magill wrote back and shared that her favorite wordsmith of all time is Adam Smith, whose scholarship I have read ever since. Her response to my simple inquiry shows that Magill truly cared about Penn students and alumni. I have been deeply inspired by her leadership and fascinating background. Magill’s resignation is a loss to my alma mater.
Magill is a lawyer. She went to law school to learn how to think like a lawyer. In a logical way, she has been trained in the Socratic method. In the court of law, lawyers know that judges loathe any appeal to emotions; therefore, lawyers strive to establish their case, beyond any reasonable doubt, through logic. However, logic cost Magill her presidency. Here we all must remember what one of the best American minds has said about human beings: almost 100 years ago, Dale Carnegie stated in his magnum opus, "How to Win Friends and Influence People": “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.”
Magill was logically sound in her response, but she was not emotionally attuned to the impact of her logic in her audience. As such, and especially nowadays, emotions trump logic. We, as modern citizens, respond to our emotional predilections — not to the veracity of our logical arguments. Good leaders should balance logic and emotions: there are instances when logic is appropriate (such as writing a Ph.D. dissertation), and there are instances when emotion is appropriate (such as responding to highly volatile attacks). I believe that Magill was lawyerly in her testimony but then followed up with a video in which she explained her position unequivocally. Magill presented herself with care and grace — and her actions should be treated accordingly.
But I am here to propose a psychological theory that explains why Magill did not respond emotionally, despite the fact that she is a woman, who is often stereotyped to act emotionally. I argue that, because Magill is a woman, and because she might be accused of being too emotional, she went to extreme measures to come across as logical. This explanation stems from the research of Claude Steele, who proposed the stereotype threat theory, which suggests that when people operate under a certain stereotype — a looming threat in the air — their performance is impaired. That is perhaps why Magill did not offer her emotions in her answer but later in her office, when the stereotype was no longer activated.
As an alumnus, however, I am so appalled by the set of events that eventually led to the resignation of Magill. At Penn, I met so many bright students, staff, and faculty. But intelligence is not the ultimate human trait; we have to demonstrate kindness to each other, too. I feel sorry for Magill because she has demonstrated so much kindness to the Penn community.
I am with Magill for her shrewd mind, kind spirit, and lawyerly persona. She has led the University to great heights and advanced Penn’s great missions. The resignation of Magill is a great loss to Penn and the greater Philadelphia area. Her resignation is a shame on the principles of free speech and the cardinal skills that Penn is supposed to champion.
I hope that the next president will build on the legacy of Magill and make Penn the great institution that it is meant to be, by its great founders, Benjamin Franklin, who would certainly be appalled by the conditions under which Magill resigned. I am certainly appalled, for Penn should stand for the principles of free speech.
Abdulrahman Bindamnan is a 2022 Penn Graduate School of Education graduate with an M.S.Ed. in International Educational Development. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.