Claudine Gay, the first Black president of the prestigious US university Harvard, resigned from her position on Tuesday, citing personal threats and a “racial animus.”
Gay had come under fire after she was brought into a congressional hearing to answer questions on the handling by Harvard — as well as MIT the University of Pennsylvania — of rising antisemitism on US campuses.
Her failure to adequately respond to a line of questions from right-wing Republican lawmaker Elise Stefanik over antisemitism and Harvard’s code of conduct turned her into a target for conservative attacks.
“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,” Gay said after weeks of calls for her resignation.
Following the Congressional hearing, she also faced accusations of plagiarism in her doctoral dissertation.
Why did Claudine Gay come under fire?
In the context of rising antisemitism following Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 and the subsequent war in Gaza, Gay was asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s code of conduct.
She told the hearing that it depended on the context, saying that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.”
The response sparked outrage among many conservatives and a condemnation from the White House. Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by multiple countries, including the US and Germany, as well as the European Union.
Gay later apologized, telling a student newspaper that she had gotten caught up in a heated exchange with the Congresswoman.
“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 told The Crimson student paper.
In her resignation letter, Gay wrote that it had 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.”
How did Harvard respond?
Harvard had thrown its support behind Gay, with the governing board concluding that an investigation into the claims of plagiarism discovered “a few instances of inadequate citation,” but did not amount to research misconduct.
A few more examples of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution” were found, but the board said Gay would update her dissertation, originally written in 1997, and would seek corrections. More than 700 faculty members at the university signed a letter in support of Gay.
However, high-profile Harvard alumni, including major donors, and more than 70 lawmakers, including two Democrats, called for Gay to step down.
Bill Ackman, a multi-million-dollar donor and Harvard alumnus, said that “President Gay’s failures have led to billions of dollars of canceled, paused, and withdrawn donations to the university.”
The 53-year-old, whose parents were Haitian immigrants, had been in her post since July 2023.
ab/dj (AP, AFP)