After severe criticism of her appearance at a congressional hearing on anti-Semitism at elite universities in the USA, the President of the University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, is drawing personal consequences. As the university announced on Saturday, the 57-year-old lawyer is stepping down as president. She is resigning from the position voluntarily, but will remain a permanent member of the law faculty, it was said. No reason was initially given.

Magill was summoned to a hearing in the US Congress on Tuesday along with the presidents of Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The background is anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at the facilities since the Islamist Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th – which all three presidents also acknowledged. But they defended themselves against accusations of not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism on campus.

One scene in particular in the Republican-led Education Committee caused great outrage. Representative Elise Stefanik asked the presidents whether the “call for genocide against Jews” at their universities violated policies on bullying and harassment. “That may be the case, depending on the context,” replied Harvard President Claudine Gay. Asked to answer “yes” or “no,” Gay again said it depends on the context.

The other presidents made similar statements. “If speech turns into behavior, it can be harassment,” said Magill – also adding: “It’s a context-dependent decision.” The lawyer later tried to explain herself: She said that in her answer at the hearing she had focused on her university’s long-standing policy, which states that speech alone is not a punishable offense – as it is stated in the constitution.

The pressure on Magill has grown enormously in the past few days. In addition to calls for his resignation on campus, there were also strong reactions from politicians. Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro called her comments unacceptable and shameful. An important donor to the University of Pennsylvania withdrew a donation of around 100 million US dollars (around 93 million euros) – and also called for his resignation.

The dispute over the conflict in the Middle East has also erupted at universities and schools in the USA in recent weeks. US media reported incidents of physical violence or threats thereof. Anti-Semitic and racist graffiti appeared on school grounds. Videos circulating online showed young people tearing down posters with photos of the Hamas hostages.

The US Department of Education had initiated investigations into anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents at US educational institutions – including Harvard, and the elite universities Columbia and Cornell.