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Harvard President Resigns due to Controversy over Antisemitism and Plagiarism

Former Harvard President Claudine Gay at the Congressional Hearing on December 5, 2023.

On January 2, 2023, Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned after being scrutinized over her handling of antisemitism on campus and over her alleged plagiarism. The Harvard board has released a statement of gratitude for Gay’s resignation: “We thank President Gay for her deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence….She demonstrated the insight, decisiveness, and empathy that are her hallmark.” Gay also signed her resignation letter, which stated that she would step down as President and that the choice “had been difficult beyond words.” The letter further said that she was “particularly blessed by the opportunity to serve people from around the world.”
The pressure for Gay to resign came after her congressional testimony before the Republican-led House Committee on December 5. Gay, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) president Sally Korbluth and University of Pennsylvania president Elizabeth Magill, testified before Congress on how they responded to antisemitism that occurred on their campuses after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. All three presidents were questioned on topics such as ideological diversity, foreign university funding, and specific disciplinary actions against threats and bullying. Despite vowing to take action on harassment and hate on campus, Gay admitted that drawing the line between free speech and the safety of the students was difficult: “During these difficult days, I have felt the bonds of our community strained. In response, I have sought to confront hate while preserving free expression. This is difficult work and I know that I have not always gotten it right.” Gay was especially facing a backlash in her response to a question concerning genocide asked by Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York. When asked by Stefanik whether the calls for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s code of conduct, Gay answered, “We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation.” Her indirect response upset many people including lawmakers from both parties.
On top of the backlash after her congressional testimony, Gay faced more scrutiny as many media outlets tried to dig up dirt around her. Gay’s past work, including her 1997 dissertation, was examined, and incidents of plagiarism were reported. On December 10, conservative activist Chirstopher Rufo published an essay, which brought Gay’s plagiarism to the spotlight. Weeks later, it was reported that over 50 allegations of plagiarism were found in her work, including examples of plagiarism that were never seen before. However, throughout her allegations, Gay defended her academic work, saying that “I stand by the integrity of my scholarship…Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards.” Even with the support of 700 faculty members as well as the support from Harvard’s governing board, many, including high-profile Harvard alumni and donors, demanded that Gay resign.
Gay’s resignation was viewed with mixed feelings. Some believed that her resignation was long overdue. For example, her resignation was supported by the Harvard Jewish Alumni Alliance, which included several thousands of Jewish alumni. The Alliance stated that “Claudine Gay tacitly encouraged those who sought to spread hate at Harvard, where many Jews no longer feel safe to study, identify and fully participate in the Harvard community.” Larry Summers, a former Harvard president who also resigned after facing pressure in 2006 also supported Gay’s decision to back down. He wrote in an email, “I admire Claudine Gay for putting Harvard’s interests first at what I know must be an agonizingly difficult moment.” Even Harvard students, who were on winter break, still expressed their own opinion. Alex Bernat, a junior at Harvard, said “I think it is, if anything, too late…I’m glad she finally came to terms with the need for Harvard to have new leadership.” Representative Elise Strefanik, who aggressively questioned Gay during the trial, said the resignation was “long overdue.” She also said that the “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.”
While many declared that Gay’s resignation was for the best, many expressed sadness and consternation with Gay’s decision, believing that the pressure was a political campaign against Gay, Harvard, and higher education. According to the New York Times, hundreds of people wrote letters asking Harvard’s board to “resist pressure to remove Dr. Gay.” Khalil Gibvran Muhammad, a faculty member at Harvard, declared that “This is a terrible moment…Republican Congressional leaders have declared war on the independence of colleges and universities..” Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader, was also disappointed in Gay’s resignation, saying that “This is an attack on every Black woman in the country who’s put a crack in the glass ceiling.” Another supporter of Claudine Gay, Randall Kennedy, who is a Harvard legal scholar wrote by text that he was “saddened by the inability of a great university to define itself against an alarmingly effective campaign of misinformation and intimidation.” Finally, Serena Jampel, a 22-year-old junior Jewish student commented that she did not find Harvard’s campus to be antisemitic. Jampel was saddened by Gay’s resignation: “I believe that she was always trying to balance free speech and student safety, and never intended to cause harm.”
Harvard has now announced that Alan M. Garber, who is Harvard’s provost and chief academic officer, would now take on the role as interim president. Described by The Harvard Corporation as “a distinguished, wide-ranging scholar,” he would take on the role until Harvard finds a new president.,violate%20the%20school%27s%20conduct%20policy.,dozen%20examples%20never%20seen%20before.%22

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Anda Wattanakit, News Writer
Anda Wattanakit is a freshman. She loves to read, especially 19th-20th century novels. When she isn't on her couch reading, she is playing with her dog, Mochi, who has a special talent of sleeping all day.

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