Updated Dec 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Wharton board tries to increase pressure on Penn president Liz Magill

Photo: Michelle Gustafson/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The next several days could be critical for the future of University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill, who remains under fire for her testimony at a congressional hearing on antisemitism.

The big picture: Monday is Penn's final day of classes before winter break, which begins after exams end on Dec. 21.

  • Magill's supporters may be hoping that she can ride out the storm until students go home, and that tensions cool in the meantime.
  • Magill's detractors don't want to let that happen.

Driving the news: The board of Penn's Wharton business school on Friday sent a letter to the university's board of trustees, after receiving no reply to a letter they sent on Thursday to Magill, in which they requested her resignation.

  • Axios has obtained a copy of the new letter, which argues that any five trustees could call for a special meeting in which Magill's removal could be discussed and voted on.
  • Four members of Wharton's board, which has no say over broader university issues, also serve as trustees.

The letter reads, in part:

"The Board will, of course, vote based upon each member's beliefs and only the Board of Trustees, as the University's fiduciaries, can determine the actions that are in the best interests of the University. However, University inaction cloaked in statements of intent and informational meetings has fostered the current climate of fear on campus and has resulted in Government inquiries, Title VI litigation, and declarations by numerous media outlets that our beloved university is 'ground zero for antisemitism on college campuses.'"

Zoom out: Penn's trustees have a meeting scheduled for Sunday evening, but it's about determining next steps and drafting documents, not voting on the future of Magill, who backtracked on her congressional testimony in a video released Wednesday.

  • To even entertain a vote, the Trustees would need to give public notice of such an agenda and then allow the public to attend the meeting.
  • The next scheduled Trustees meeting isn't until late February. A special meeting could be called by Magill or the chair or vice chair of the Board of Trustees, but that hasn't happened.
  • Wharton's board, in consultation with the outside counsel it retained, argues that five trustees could also call such a meeting. It's unclear if that will happen, although a source says that such discussions are occurring.
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