Trustees Elect Magill Penn’s Next President

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After the vote, she praised the University’s “impatience” as a virtue.

With members of the Penn community cheering her on, Elizabeth Magill walks down Locust Walk beside board of trustees chair Scott Bok and other University leaders on March 4 after Magill was officially elected to be Penn’s next president.

“I would like to call your attention to our last item of business,” said Scott Bok C’81 W’81 L’84, chair of Penn’s board of trustees, about 45 minutes into its March 4 meeting, after a flurry of resolutions, approvals, and committee reports (notable, though, in that the full board was meeting in person rather than virtually). “It’s one that we only do about every 10 or 20 years, so it’s an important milestone,” Bok added—namely, electing a new president, Penn’s ninth since the office was instituted in 1930.

Important, but not exactly suspenseful.

As announced back in January [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr 2022], acting on the recommendation of a consultative committee of trustees, faculty, and student representatives, the executive committee of the trustees had nominated University of Virginia executive vice president and provost M. Elizabeth “Liz” Magill to succeed Amy Gutmann, who resigned in February to take up her duties as US Ambassador to Germany following a 17-year term as Penn president [“Compact Fulfilled,” Nov|Dec 2021]. (One of the resolutions was to designate Gutmann as President Emerita.) This vote was to confirm and formalize Magill’s selection. She will begin her term on July 1, taking over from interim president Wendell Pritchett Gr’97.

Consultative committee member and board of trustees vice chair Lee Spelman Doty W’76 put Magill’s name forward for consideration. In addition to her academic credentials and leadership experience at UVA and Stanford, where she was dean of the law school for seven years, Doty pointed to “those qualities that you will not find on her CV” cited by colleagues and other references. “Besides her superior intellect, she is known for her relentless curiosity, her warmth, and her compassion,” she said. In seconding the nomination, trustee Alan D. Schnitzer W’88 quoted “someone who knows her well” as having said, “‘Liz was born to lead a great university,’” adding, “I could not be more pleased that it’s going to be this great university.”

Magill was then confirmed by a unanimous voice vote.

“This is an extraordinary moment for me. I couldn’t be more honored and privileged,” Magill said in brief remarks afterward. Citing the maxim “patience is a virtue,” she noted that, in her experience, it holds true in some cases—when it comes to raising children or learning fly-fishing, for example—but not at “Benjamin Franklin’s university,” which “has always been revolutionary, from its founding right up to now.”

Listing Penn “firsts” past (nondenominational liberal arts curriculum, medical school, business school) and present (mRNA technology, CAR T cell therapies), Magill asserted that, in fact, “Impatience is one of Penn’s great virtues: make the best education in the world even better, ever more full of opportunity and belonging for all—not sometime, but now. Break new ground in the pursuit of knowledge and creative expression … build breathtaking solutions for the most pressing societal challenges—not sometime, but now. Be a shining example of everything that a brilliant, diverse, essential research university can be and do for the world—not sometime, but right now.

“So it is with enormous humility, as well as an urgent call to purpose, that I accept this invitation to become the ninth president of the University of Pennsylvania,” she added. “The incomparable faculty, students, staff, leadership, alumni, and friends make this university’s momentum unstoppable. Together we’re going to launch Penn to even greater heights and, looking around me at this room and at this gorgeous university in this amazing city, I suspect you feel just like I do: impatient to get started.” —JP

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