Regime Change Comes to Harvard

President Claudine Gay resigns, ending shortest tenure in university history

Claudine Gay (Reuters/Ken Cedeno)
January 2, 2024

Harvard president Claudine Gay resigned on Tuesday amid mounting allegations of plagiarism in her academic work and disastrous congressional testimony in December about the university's handling of anti-Semitism on campus. University provost Alan Garber will serve as interim president as the school conducts a search for a new president.

Gay's announcement comes less than a month after the school's governing body, the Harvard Corporation, declared it had commissioned an "independent review" of her work that had exonerated her and pledged its unanimous support for her leadership.

Gay may have stepped down, but she isn't copping to any mistakes. She suggested in a parting message, addressed to the "Harvard Community," that criticisms of both her scholarship and leadership are groundless.

"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," she wrote.

The Washington Free Beacon in mid-December documented dozens of allegations of plagiarism in Gay's academic work.

A Monday evening report revealed additional examples of "duplicative language without proper attribution," as the Harvard Corporation euphemistically referred to Gay's misconduct. Those examples extended into an eighth of Gay's 17 published pieces.

The school's student newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, editorialized in Gay's defense until the end, writing on Dec. 31, "President Gay Plagiarized, but She Should Stay. For Now."

"A sober-minded assessment of the plagiarism charges indicates that Gay's behavior constitutes plagiarism, but since the errors do not appear intentional, they do not warrant her resignation," the paper said.

Dissenting voices also emerged, though. The paper published an op-ed by a member of Harvard's Honor Council, which adjudicates cases of plagiarism and academic dishonesty, arguing that Gay was being held to a lower standard than Harvard's undergraduate students, who are routinely disciplined for similar infractions.

And some Harvard students say they are happy to see her go. "I'm glad to see that Harvard has decided new leadership is needed to begin to pull us out from these many scandals and combat antisemitism on campus," said Alex Bernat, a member of the Crimson's editorial board.

The plagiarism scandal followed on the heels of Gay's disastrous response to an outpouring of anti-Semitism on campus after Hamas's Oct. 7 rampage on Israel. After 33 Harvard student groups signed on to a statement blaming Israel for the attacks, Gay herself issued a mealy-mouthed statement lamenting "the death and destruction unleashed." And while the school flew the Ukrainian flag in solidarity with the embattled country after Russia invaded in 2022, it resisted calls to fly an Israeli flag after Oct. 7 as pro-Palestinian student groups became increasingly emboldened in their efforts to disrupt campus life with aggressive protests against Israel's military response.

That was capped by her testimony on Capitol Hill, during which she hemmed and hawed when asked whether, at Harvard, calling for the genocide for the Jews constituted harassment. "It depends on the context," she told Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.), a statement that required clean-up after the fact.

"I am sorry," Gay told the Crimson after her testimony. "When words amplify distress and pain, I don't know how you could feel anything but regret."

Gay's resignation is now likely to turn attention to the 12-member Harvard Corporation, which claimed to have conducted an investigation into the plagiarism charges against Gay but has never revealed who conducted it. The corporation also retained the top-dollar defamation firm Clare Locke to rebut the allegations and threatened to sue the New York Post for "immense" damages for publishing a story detailing the charges, the Post reported.

The corporation's members include the former chairman of American Express, Ken Chenault; the former president of Princeton University, Shirley Tilghman; and the former president of Amherst College, Biddy Martin. It is led by Obama administration secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker.

The Harvard Corporation said in a statement on Gay's resignation that she had acknowledged "missteps," though her resignation letter did not cite any.

"These past several months have seen Harvard and higher education face a series of sustained and unprecedented challenges," the corporation said in an email on Tuesday. "In the face of escalating controversy and conflict, President Gay and the Fellows have sought to be guided by the best interests of the institution whose future progress and well-being we are together committed to uphold. … It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted her resignation."