Harvard University President Claudine Gay Resigns Amid Backlash

Claudine Gay
Claudine Gay (C) attends a menorah lighting ceremony on the seventh night of Hanukkah with the University’s Jewish community on December 13, 2023, in Harvard Yard, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Harvard University President Claudine Gay has resigned from her position — making her tenure the shortest ever in the University’s centuries-old existence.

The news was originally reported by the Boston Globe and The Harvard Crimson, who claimed that sources close to the decision informed them of her resignation. However, Gay later confirmed the news in a statement.

A report by The Root — Harvard University President Claudine Gay Is Out. Here’s How We Got Here (Jan. 3, 2024) — said:

Last month, several university presidents were questioned by conservative members of Congress about protests held by pro-Palestinian student groups. Lawmakers demanded that Presidents from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale condemn these protests as antisemitic.

Things rapidly escalated from there. Conservatives began demanding their resignation, arguing that they hadn’t condemned antisemitism forcefully enough. And four days after the hearing, University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill resigned.

But then, a new allegation began to pick up steam.

Plagiarism Scandal Rocks Harvard

In early December, right-wing activist Christopher Russo and conservative journalist Christopher Brunet posted an article called “Is Claudine Gay a Plagiarist?”

The substack post alleged that Gay had plagiarized portions of her 1997 PH.D dissertation on Black political power from authors Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam and others. They allege that although she regularly referenced the scholars, she failed to properly cite and use quotation marks when referencing their work.

They also accused her of lifting from Carol Swain’s book “Black Faces, Black Interests,” this time without referencing her.

Here are two passages they highlighted as an example:

Pitkin distinguishes between “descriptive representation,” the statistical correspondence of the demographic characteristics … and more “substantive representation,” the correspondence between representatives’ goals and those of their constituents.

The bottom quote is from Gay’s work:

Social scientists have concentrated . . . between descriptive representation (the statistical correspondence of demographic characteristics) and substantive representation (the correspondence of legislative goals and priorities).

The following day, the conservative online outlet the Washington Free Beacon published additional accusations of plagiarism.

Harvard University Gets Involved

Days after the plagiarism allegations emerged publicly, Harvard’s Board penned a letter vigorously defending her.

In the letter, the University Board said they became aware of plagiarism allegations against Gay in October. They said that Gay requested that they investigate these allegations and that they “found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.” Instead, they said that Gay requested four corrections to “insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications.”

Gay also denied the allegations.

Additional Accusations of Plagiarism

That letter might have been the end of it if more accusations of plagiarism had not surfaced. Within days, the Washington Free Beacon reported that an anonymous complaint of plagiarism had been sent to the University.

The University responded in a summary sent to the Boston Globe, saying that an outside investigation found additional “examples of duplicative language without appropriate attribution” in her dissertation on Black electoral power. However, they said that this did not “constitute research misconduct.”

Republicans in Congress quickly seized on the new allegations and launched a review of the allegations of plagiarism.

The Final Nail In The Coffin?

The report by The Root said:

Students on the Harvard Crimson editorial board began calling for her resignation. And on Monday, the Washington Free Beacon released an additional anonymous complaint, accusing her of six additional allegations of plagiarism, bringing the total up to nearly 50. Although, it is worth noting that number far exceeds the “duplication language,” found in Harvard’s independent investigation. It is also worth noting that no one has accused her of graver academic misconduct wholesale lifting ideas from other academics or falsifying her research.

But on Tuesday, she released a statement announcing her resignation. “It is with a heavy heart but a deep love for Harvard that I write to share that I will be stepping down as president,” she said in a letter obtained by ABC News. “This is not a decision I came to easily. Indeed, it has been difficult beyond words because I have looked forward to working with so many of you to advance the commitment to academic excellence that has propelled this great university across centuries.”

The Shortest Presidency In Harvard

A report by UPI said on Jan. 2, 2024:

Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday amid accusations of plagiarism and a backlash over her response to anti-Semitism on campus.

Alan M. Garber, the university provost, will serve as interim president during the search for a replacement for Gay, who served the shortest presidency in the university’s history, The Harvard Crimson reported. Gay’s tenure began in July.

Gay said she is resigning to allow the Harvard community to navigate the controversy “with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.”

“My deep sense of connection to Harvard and its people has made it all the more painful to witness the tensions and divisions that have riven our community in recent months, weakening the bonds of trust and reciprocity that should be our sources of strength and support in times of crisis,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

“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.”

Gay will resume her faculty position at Harvard.

Controversy grew from criticism by some that the university failed to forcefully condemn the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

Gay faced investigations by the Harvard Corp. and the U.S. House of Representatives after her Dec. 5 testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee related to antisemitism on campus.

She faced backlash for appearing to evade questions about antisemitism and whether students would be disciplined for calling for the genocide of Jews.

A statement from Harvard’s governing board thanked Gay for her commitment and thanked Garber for stepping into the role on an interim basis.

“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,” the statement 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.”

Republicans welcomed Gay’s resignation, with Rep. Elise Stefanik, who questioned Gay during the Dec. 5 hearing, calling it “long overdue.”

“Our robust congressional investigation will continue to move forward to expose the rot in our most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions and deliver accountability to the American people,” Stefanik said in a statement.

Some faculty members expressed support for Gay.

Terrible Moment

Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, called the resignation “a terrible moment.”

“Republican Congressional leaders have declared war on the independence of colleges and universities, just as Governor DeSantis has done in Florida. They will only be emboldened by Gay’s resignation,” Muhammad said, according to The New York Times.

Withhold Donations

The UPI report said:

Gay’s resignation follows that of University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill. More than 1,600 Harvard alumni, including billionaire mega-donor Len Blavatnik, said they would withhold donations until the university takes action against anti-Semitism.

Moment Of Extraordinary Challenge

Other media reports said:

According to her resignation letter, Gay, the university’s first Black president and second woman to hold the position, said it was “in the best interests of Harvard” to step down to place the focus back on Harvard “rather than any individual” during what she called a “moment of extraordinary challenge.” Harvard is among a number of schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for allegations of Islamophobia and antisemitic discrimination on campus following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” Gay added.

In a Tuesday statement, the Harvard Corporation — the top governing body of fellows at the institution — said they accepted her resignation with “sorrow.”

“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 statement read. “It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted her resignation.”

Gay, whose six-month tenure is the shortest amount of time served by a president in Harvard’s history, is also facing mounting accusations of plagiarism stemming from published articles she wrote as a professor and student at the university.

Gay’s Statement At The Capitol Hill Hearing

Media reports said:

On Dec. 5, 2023, Gay, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth and the University of Pennsylvania’s then-President Liz Magill testified before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

During a contentious line of questioning between Gay and New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, the congresswoman asked Gay, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules on bullying and harassment?”

“The rules around bullying and harassment are quite specific, and if the context in which that language is used amounts to bullying and harassment, then we take — we take action against it,” Gay responded.

When Stefanik continued to press Gay toward a definitive answer, Gay followed with this:

“Antisemitic speech when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct and we do take action,” Gay said.

Her remarks swiftly drew criticism from Republicans, some Democrats and the White House. She apologized the next day.

“What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard and will never go unchallenged,” Gay said in an interview with the Harvard Crimson.

The Allegations Of “Plagiarism”

Media reports said:

In the wake of the congressional hearing, conservative activists dug up several of Gay’s published works dating back to the 1990s.

As a graduate student at Harvard, Gay wrote “Between Black and White: The Complexity of Brazilian Race Relations,” which was published in 1993 by Origins magazine. According to an analysis by CNN, she lifted one sentence from a source that was found in her “Suggestions for Further Reading” list.

The allegations also included that Gay copied lines verbatim without citation from a 1996 article on racial polarization in Louisiana while writing her 1997 doctoral dissertation, “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics” for her PhD in political science.

CNN also says Gay failed to properly attribute language borrowed from a 2003 paper by economists in an article titled “Moving to Opportunity: The Political Effects of a Housing Mobility Experiment,” which she published in the journal Urban Affairs Review in 2012.

In response to the plagiarism allegations, Gay requested a review of her work by the Harvard Corporation, whose fellows concluded in a Dec. 12 statement that they found “a few instances of inadequate citation” but “no violation of Harvard’s standards of research misconduct.”

The statement went on to say that Gay requested four corrections that included the proper citations and quotation marks in two of the original articles and reinforced the Harvard Corporation’s position that they would “unanimously stand in support of President Gay.”

The governing body also announced that Gay would update her 1997 doctoral dissertation.

The Next Move

According to Gay’s resignation letter, she will return to the university’s faculty, where she previously served as professor of government since 2006. Gay is also a professor of African American studies. In her letter, Gay pledged to “continue working alongside” Harvard to “build the community we all deserve.”

“These last weeks have helped make clear the work we need to do to build that future — to combat bias and hate in all its forms, to create a learning environment in which we respect each other’s dignity and treat one another with compassion, and to affirm our enduring commitment to open inquiry and free expression in the pursuit of truth,” Gay said in the statement.

The fellows of the Harvard Corporation added in their statement that they are “grateful for the extraordinary contributions she has made — and will continue to make — as a leader, a teacher, a scholar, a mentor, and an inspiration to many.”


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