Photo Credit: Governor Maura Healey’s Office
Dr Claudine Gay, Harvard’s first black president, has resigned after six months and two days, making her the shortest-serving president in the university’s history. Her decision to step down comes after an extensive backlash at both her context-dependent approach to addressing antisemitism and allegations of academic plagiarism. In her resignation statement, Dr Gay said that “it had become 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.”
In an extraordinarily tin-eared op-ed published in The New York Times, Dr Gay went on to argue that “the campaign against me was about more than one university and one leader. This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society.” Although she admitted that she has “made mistakes”, Dr Gay fell short of taking full responsibility for her actions or recognising that her mistakes warranted resignation. Instead, she framed her exit as a reaction to what she perceived as a concerted effort by conservative groups to target not just her, but also minority groups who ‘didn’t know their place’ and their advocates.
In fact, Dr Gay deserved to be dismissed thrice over. First and foremost, upholding academic integrity is the cornerstone of any university, never mind an institution as prestigious as Harvard. When a scholar faces accusations of plagiarism, it should be the norm that a resignation follows if the allegations amount to more than a casual error. There is undeniable evidence of Dr Gay’s repetition of other work in multiple publications. Yet instead of taking responsibility, she continues to try and downplay the extent of her academic problems.
If that were not bad enough, Dr Gay’s shockingly weak response to antisemitism issues on campus also warranted her immediate departure. Arguably, this should have happened in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attacks when she failed both to publicly condemn the Hamas attack which killed over a thousand people or to denounce a letter from student groups from Harvard which argued that “the Israeli regime [is] entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Instead, it took Dr Gay several days and multiple statements to solidify her condemnation of the attack and the letter.
Finally, Dr Gay should have been shown the door on December 6, following a congressional hearing in which she failed to unequivocally say that calls for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policies. Instead, in a contemptible performance of academic doublespeak, she argued that “it depends on the context” as to whether calling for the genocide of Jews would amount to an actionable breach, suggesting that it was only when “antisemitic rhetoric…crosses into conduct, that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation” that she would countenance taking action.
As Dr Gay continues to downplay the extent of her “mistakes”, it is troubling to see how many people are swayed by the narrative that her downfall was as a result of a vendetta against a black woman. It is, in fact, a legitimate response to a scholar who could not satisfy questions about the originality of her work, and a university leader who failed to prioritise her students’ safety or condemn hateful conduct.
Those advocating for social justice, particularly those concerned about the mistreatment of minorities, should have been the first to demand Dr Gay’s resignation. Instead, the more they defend Dr Gay, the more they seem like a group that advocates solely for “Me too, unless you are a Jew.”
Dr Helena Ivanov is an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society