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UPenn’s President Resigned. What Does it Mean for Harvard President Claudine Gay?

Harvard President Claudine Gay testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday.
Harvard President Claudine Gay testified before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday. By Miles J. Herszenhorn
By Miles J. Herszenhorn and Claire Yuan, Crimson Staff Writers

When Harvard President Claudine Gay was inaugurated as the University’s 30th president, many expected her to lead Harvard for the next decade.

But after Gay’s testimony on Tuesday before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, many are demanding she resign in her first semester.

During the hearing, Gay — alongside University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill and MIT President Sally A. Kornbluth — repeatedly declined to directly answer a question from Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) about whether calls for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s policies on bullying and harassment.

The fallout from the testimony was swift. Magill resigned on Saturday amid the backlash. And Gay, who had previously only faced a few isolated calls to resign, faced dozens of additional calls for her resignation as the exchange with Stefanik went viral.

Gay said in an interview with The Crimson on Thursday that she has the support of Penny S. Pritzker ’81, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body.

But Pritzker has remained silent.

A Harvard spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Saturday about whether Pritzker and the Harvard Corporation still have confidence in Gay.

The silence from the Corporation stands in stark contrast to the responses from MIT and the University of Pennsylvania following the hearing.

Members of the University of Pennsylvania’s Board of Trustees pressured Magill to resign, as the board held an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss Magill’s tenure.

Meanwhile, the executive committee of the MIT Corporation — the school’s governing board — released a statement Thursday evening declaring their “full and unreserved support” for Kornbluth.

At Harvard — nothing.

The lack of any public statement from the Harvard Corporation has left the fate of Gay’s presidency uncertain even as external pressure mounts on her to resign.

“One down. Two to go,” Stefanik wrote in a post on X after Magill announced her resignation.

“@Harvard and @MIT, do the right thing,” Stefanik added. “The world is watching.”

Rabbi David J. Wolpe, a member of the antisemitism advisory group Gay established in October, resigned on Thursday from the body. On Friday, more than 70 members of Congress also signed a bipartisan letter to the Corporation calling on Gay to resign.

For two months, Gay faced fierce backlash over the University’s initial response to the Israel-Hamas war and what critics have called a failure to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus. But until Tuesday, Gay’s job security never seemed to be in question.

Sensing the precarity of Gay’s position following Magill’s resignation, some Harvard faculty members took to social media Saturday evening to express support for Gay and fill the void left by the Corporation’s public silence.

Benjamin Eidelson, a professor at Harvard Law School, wrote in a post on X that he was “dismayed by Liz Magill’s resignation.”

“I so hope that Claudine Gay @Harvard will not follow,” Eidelson wrote. “I fear too few of us have said what many of us think: She did nothing wrong, & the real failure of leadership would be surrendering to a campaign so hostile to our values.”

Harvard Computer Science professor Boaz Barak also took to X to defend Gay against calls for her removal from the presidency.

“Anti-semitism at @harvard is real,” Barak wrote. “But this issue is systemic, and calls on President Gay to resign are misguided.”

As the former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gay has been able to count on the faculty as one of her most supportive constituencies at Harvard since assuming office in July. But while the support from faculty members will help Gay, the fate of her presidency lies in the hands of Pritzker and the 11 other fellows of the Corporation.

Still, any demand from the Corporation for Gay’s resignation would be a remarkable about-face for a board whose entire membership served on the presidential search committee that handpicked Gay to lead Harvard just one year prior.

Gay said in an interview with The Crimson on Thursday that despite the calls for her resignation, she is “facing this challenge head-on.”

“Ultimately, my focus is on leading this community and listening to what this community needs and having that shape how I work to move the community forward,” Gay said.

“I do so with confidence that we and I will help get us through this moment and to a place where our students feel safe and able to focus on the very thing they came to Harvard to do,” she added.

—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at Follow him on X @mherszenhorn or on Threads @mileshersz.

—Staff writer Claire Yuan can be reached at Follow her on X @claireyuan33.

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