Harvard University’s 30th president, Claudine Gay, has resigned from her position after just six months, making the shortest tenure in the institution’s 388-year history. Gay, the first Black president of Harvard and the second woman to hold the role, had challenges, including allegations of plagiarism and criticism for her response to campus anti-Semitism amid tensions surrounding the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Claudine Gay, 53, previously served as the Wilbur A Cowett Professor of Government at Harvard since 2015.
A political scientist and professor of African and African-American studies, she became Harvard’s president on July 1, 2023, succeeding Lawrence S Bacow.
Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, had an academic background and had been a part of Harvard since 2006.
Gay’s resignation was by a combination of factors. One major catalyst was her handling of allegations of anti-Semitism on campus, particularly during a congressional hearing on December 4, 2023.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik accused Gay of insufficiently addressing anti-Semitic incidents an environment where hate speech was tolerated under the guise of free speech.
During the hearing, Gay faced criticism for not stating whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate Harvard’s conduct policy.
The controversy escalated as some viewed her responses as ambiguous in addressing concerns related to campus safety and hate speech.
Gay experienced personal attacks and threats, which she mentioned in her resignation letter. She cited these attacks as being fueled by racial animus, by leaders navigating complex issues such as anti-Semitism and Middle East conflicts.
The resignation also followed allegations of plagiarism against Gay. Reports surfaced after a congressional hearing in December, with claims of plagiarism in her research papers from 1993 and 2017, as well as in the acknowledgments of her 1997 Harvard dissertation.
Right-wing activist Christopher F Rufo and the Washington Free Beacon brought these allegations to light.
Harvard’s board conducted an investigation and concluded that Gay did not violate research standards but noted the need for additional citations in some articles.
Gay acknowledged the need for corrections, actively requesting four corrections in two articles to address omitted citations and quotation marks.
The congressional hearing on anti-Semitism added fuel to the controversy surrounding Gay’s presidency. Questions about free speech, anti-Semitic incidents on campus, and the broader issue of navigating the Israel-Gaza conflict became focal points of criticism against Gay’s leadership.
Congresswoman Stefanik specifically concerns about the university allowing anti-Semitic speech under the guise of free speech.
Gay’s responses, particularly on phrases like Intifada and from the river to the sea, were scrutinized, with some interpreting them as inadequate in condemning language that could incite violence against Jewish individuals.
Gay’s clarification statement post-hearing reiterated the commitment to free expression but addressed that it does not condone calls for violence or genocide.
While Gay faced opposition, she also garnered support from colleagues at Harvard. Over 700 faculty members signed a letter urging against public pressures to remove Gay.
Experts weighed in, indicating that elements of Gay’s work did constitute plagiarism. The inclusion of passages without proper quotation marks and citations concerns about the transparency of authorship.
However, some scholars argued that in specialized fields, similar language might be used to describe common concepts.
The Harvard Corporation, acknowledging the challenges faced by Gay, expressed sorrow over her departure and commended her resilience in the face of personal attacks.
Alan M. Garber, the current provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president until a permanent replacement is selected.