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Harvard Corporation Members Did Not Discuss Gay’s Removal During Private Dinner, Faculty in Attendance Say

Four Harvard faculty members said Claudine Gay's future at the helm of the University was not addressed during a private dinner with two Harvard Corporation members.
Four Harvard faculty members said Claudine Gay's future at the helm of the University was not addressed during a private dinner with two Harvard Corporation members. By Frank S. Zhou
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Two members of the Harvard Corporation and four faculty members discussed a perceived culture of self-censorship on campus during a private dinner last Tuesday, but they did not address Claudine Gay’s future as University president, according to all four faculty in attendance.

The New York Times first reported the dinner on Sunday, during which a member of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body with the power to decide Gay’s fate as president — allegedly voiced support for replacing Gay.

Tracy P. Palandjian ’93, who sits on the 12-member board, allegedly told the group that “replacing the university’s president might not be going far enough to get Harvard back on course,” according to the Times. Paul J. Finnegan ’75, the University’s outgoing treasurer, was the other Corporation member in attendance.

But in statements to The Crimson, all four faculty members at the dinner — Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen, Psychology professor Steven A. Pinker, lecturer Flynn J. Cratty, and former Harvard Medical School Dean Jeffrey S. Flier — disputed the characterization of the meeting.

Speculation surrounding the Corporation’s internal dynamics only grew Sunday, fueled by the suggestion that one member of the Corporation had broken ranks.

According to the Times, the dinner was evidence of “tensions” between Corporation members behind closed doors regarding Gay’s continued tenure.

Though the Corporation released a unanimous statement of support for Gay on Dec. 12 following her disastrous congressional testimony about antisemitism on campus, the board also criticized Gay’s initial response to the Israel-Hamas war and said it decided to support her after “extensive deliberations” — a stunning rebuke of the new president.

The Corporation, which usually conducts its business in secret, has found itself under a national spotlight as the University’s embattled president has faced plagiarism allegations and repeated calls for her resignation.

During the meeting at Bar Enza, a restaurant in Cambridge, Palandjian and Finnegan “offered muted apologies” and accepted some responsibility for Harvard’s ongoing crisis, according to the Times.

But all four professors in attendance — who are all leaders of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard — later said the Corporation members did not offer apologies, adding that they did not recall Palandjian expressing support for Gay’s removal.

Pinker said he had “no memory of Palandjian saying she supported Gay’s resignation.”

“That would have been a bombshell I could not possibly have forgotten,” Pinker said.

Cratty wrote in a statement that the dinner was a “very frank and friendly conversation about ways Harvard can grow in its commitment to civil discourse and diversity of thought.”

“We did not discuss or request President Gay’s removal,” he added.

According to the Times, Palandjian also said Harvard needed “generational change.”

Suk Gersen wrote in a statement to The Crimson that she didn’t “specifically recall Tracy Palandjian using the language of ‘generational’ change at Harvard.”

“But if she did, it was not about possibly replacing the President or members of the Corporation, as that was not the conversation we were having,” she added.

Finnegan and Palandjian declined to comment through Harvard spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain.

The Times also reported that, according to a Harvard spokesperson, one of the members of the Corporation held “a folder of news articles critical of the university.” Swain told The Crimson that while one Corporation member did bring a folder to the dinner, it contained two opinion pieces written by Pinker and another faculty member.

Swain wrote that the dinner was “a constructive and positive conversation about the importance of academic freedom, civil discourse and intellectual diversity.”

“The discussion of ‘generational change’ occurred in that context; that addressing such a vital and complex societal issue would not happen overnight, but would take time,” Swain added. “It was not related to any individual at Harvard.”

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokesperson for the New York Times, wrote in a statement that the publication is “confident in the accuracy of our reporting and stand by the story.”

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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