On the first day of the spring semester, Claudine Gay is stepping down as president of Harvard University following sustained backlash sparked by her Congressional hearing on student safety and antisemitism.
Gay was sharply criticized by influential alumni, lawmakers and one former Harvard president for her tepid response to the Israel-Hamas war. Then, during a House hearing, Gay picked up more heat from the broader community for not more vigorously shouting down Hamas and for publicly avoiding classifying the incitement of violence against Jews as a punishable offense.
While the University of Pennsylvania’s Liz Magill stepped down shortly after the hearing, over 700 faculty at Harvard rallied around Gay, urging the administration to back her. Harvard’s highest governing body, the Harvard Corporation, expressed confidence in her soon afterward.
“The critical work of defending a culture of free inquiry in our diverse community cannot proceed if we let its shape be dictated by outside forces,” read the letter.
But the mortal wound to Gay’s reputation and tenure as president was plagiarism allegations in her doctoral thesis. The most recent reports cite about 40 instances of possible plagiarism, The New York Times reports.
Gay seems to have maintained good standing with the institution despite the scandal. The Harvard Corporation expressed “sorrow” at the news.
“While President Gay has acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them, it is also true that she has shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks,” wrote the Harvard Corporation in a letter following Gay’s resignation.
Both the Fellows of Harvard College and Claudine Gay remarked on the racial tones underpinning much of the criticism Gay received in the weeks following the Congressional hearing.
“While some of this has played out in the public domain, much of it has taken the form of repugnant and, in some cases, racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls. We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms.”
Gay believes the majority of the threats and personal attacks she’s received are fueled by “racial animus.”
However, Christopher Rufo, one of the most prominent critics of Critical Race Theory and DEI initiatives and a close ally of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to criticize Gay’s lack of personal accountability for the decision.
This is Claudine Gay's resignation letter. Rather than take responsibility for minimizing antisemitism, committing serial plagiarism, intimidating the free press, and damaging the institution, she calls her critics racist. This is the poison of DEI ideology. Glad she's gone. pic.twitter.com/WlqMKLn6pA
— Christopher F. Rufo ⚔️ (@realchrisrufo) January 2, 2024
“For today, we close by reiterating our gratitude to President Gay for her devoted service to Harvard, as well as to Provost Garber for his willingness to lead the university through the interim period to come,” wrote the Harvard Corporation in a letter following Gay’s resignation.
Alan Garber, Harvard’s chief academic officer, will serve as interim president effective immediately.