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Former Penn President Liz Magill testified before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on Dec. 5th, 2023.

Credit: Ethan Young

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