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Citing ‘racial animus,’ Harvard president Claudine Gay resigns in wake of dual controversies

She faced growing calls to vacate the position after her response to campus antisemitism and extensive charges that she plagiarized her scholarship.

Closeup of the Latin inscription at the top right of the Class of 1857 Gate (Wadsworth Gate) to Harvard Yard, the oldest part of the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Tada Images/Shutterstock.
Closeup of the Latin inscription at the top right of the Class of 1857 Gate (Wadsworth Gate) to Harvard Yard, the oldest part of the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass. Credit: Tada Images/Shutterstock.

Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard University on Tuesday “with a heavy heart but a deep love for Harvard.” After consulting with members of the President and Fellows of Harvard College—also called the Harvard Corporation—it became “clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual,” she wrote.

She also claimed that criticism of the way that she handled antisemitism on campus and charges that she plagiarized the work of other scholars were unfounded, and even hateful.

“Amidst all of this, it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am—and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” she wrote.

She did not mention Jew-hatred specifically, referring only to “hate in all its forms.”

“When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity—and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education,” she wrote. “I trust we will all find ways, in this time of intense challenge and controversy, to recommit ourselves to the excellence, the openness, and the independence that are crucial to what our university stands for—and to our capacity to serve the world.”

The corporation thanked Gay, who will remain a Harvard professor reportedly with a salary of nearly $900,000, for her “deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence.”

“Her own message conveying her intention to step down eloquently underscores what those who have worked with her have long known—her commitment to the institution and its mission is deep and selfless,” the corporation said. “It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted her resignation.”

It too cited attacks on Gay. “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,” it said.

“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,” it added.

House committee education
Claudine Gay (center), president of Harvard University, testifies during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Gay’s intention to resign was reported earlier in The Boston Globe. She has been embroiled in dual controversies over her response to campus antisemitism at Harvard in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks, as well as accusations that she plagiarized substantial portions of her academic work.

On Dec. 5, Gay was grilled by Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee alongside the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania about whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ respective codes of conduct.

“It depends on the context,” Gay stated.

Penn president Liz Magill announced her resignation on Dec. 9, four days after the hearing. However, Gay and MIT president Sally Kornbluth appeared to have weathered the storm until Tuesday.

Compounding Gay’s troubles were reports from the New York Post and Washington Free Beacon indicating that Gay had plagiarized substantial portions of her academic work. A political scientist, her research focuses on race, identity and voting behavior.

Harvard had previously denied that Gay’s “duplicative language” rose to the level of plagiarism, but the Free Beacon reported six new plagiarism charges against Gay on Jan. 1.

House committee education
From left: Claudine Gay (Harvard University president), Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania president), American University professor Pamela Nadell and Sally Kornbluth (Massachusetts Institute of Technology president) testify during a House committee hearing about antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Credit: House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Gay, who is Harvard’s first black president, allegedly plagiarized from other scholars.

Harvard’s provost, Alan Garber, is serving as interim president. Garber, who is Jewish, told The Harvard Crimson that he had regrets about the academic institution’s initial statement about Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. “Our goal is to ensure that our community is safe, secure and feels well supported—and that first statement did not succeed in that regard,” he said.

“Affiliates slammed the university over its initial statement on Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which critics condemned for failing to denounce Hamas and respond to a controversial letter signed by more than 30 Harvard student groups that called Israel ‘entirely responsible’ for the violence,” per the Crimson.

“The criticism prompted Harvard president Claudine Gay to release a second statement less than 16 hours later, in which she explicitly condemned Hamas and distanced the university from the statement signed by the student organizations,” the paper added.

“President Gay’s follow-up statement was important in rectifying some of the misimpressions that we created with that first statement,” Garber told the Crimson.

At just six months and two days, Gay’s tenure as president is the shortest in the Ivy League university’s 388-year history. The search committee also hired Gay “after just five months—Harvard’s shortest search process in almost 70 years,” the Crimson reported.

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