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Harvard Alumni Split Over Claudine Gay’s Resignation Amid Controversy

Harvard alumni were split over former Harvard President Claudine Gay's resignation.
Harvard alumni were split over former Harvard President Claudine Gay's resignation. By Truong L. Nguyen
By Tyler J.H. Ory and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard alumni were split over former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation, with some expressing concerns about the influence of conservative activists and politicians while others embraced her decision to step down after a brief, controversy-ridden tenure.

Gay — who made history as the first person of color to lead Harvard — resigned on Jan. 2 amid mounting criticism over the University’s response to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, her controversial remarks during a congressional hearing on antisemitism, and plagiarism allegations that raised concerns about her academic integrity.

Sagi Melamed, president of the Harvard Club of Israel who earned his master’s degree at Harvard, said he welcomed Gay’s resignation but viewed it as little more than a step in the right direction.

“Claudine Gay failed a huge test of leadership in front of the entire world, and I think it was right for her to leave,” he said. “But antisemitism at Harvard is not because of Claudine Gay. It was there before, and unfortunately, it might be there after.”

Michal Y. Herzfeld ’03, a board member of the Harvard Club of Israel, also urged caution in seeing her resignation as a panacea for antisemitism at Harvard.

“I think that those who rejoice in her resignation are mistaken if they think that this step alone will cure the scourge of antisemitism and anti-Zionism at Harvard,” Herzfeld wrote in an emailed statement.

The Harvard Black Alumni Society called Gay’s resignation “disappointing” in a statement on their website, writing that “the campaign against her felt personal to many of us.”

Other alumni groups said they were worried about what implications Gay’s resignation had for the University’s future.

“Targeting the first Black female president sets a historical precedent and should concern us all,” the Harvard Arab Alumni Association wrote in a statement.

Some others said Gay’s resignation could in fact worsen the situation for Jewish students at Harvard.

Rabbi Toba E. Spitzer ’85 — a member of a group of Harvard alumni rabbis who signed an op-ed expressing “deep sorrow” at Gay’s resignation — said the upheaval in leadership could pose additional challenges in supporting Jewish students.

“We’re rabbis, and we want to be a support to Jewish students on campus,” she said. “But, again, bringing down President Gay is not a help in that situation.”

Several alumni also expressed concern about the roles played by some of Gay’s chief critics, including billionaire hedge fund manager Bill A. Ackman ’88, conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo, and fourth-ranking House Republican Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06.

Jeffrey P. Melnick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who obtained his PhD at Harvard, said people should look at who is “steering this discourse about Harvard and plagiarism.”

“It’s not scholars, it’s not students,” Melnick said.

Rabbi David A. Teutsch ’72, who also lamented Gay’s resignation, said it was the outcome of a concerted political movement that targeted both Gay and Harvard.

“I see it as much as anything else as a result of a hatchet job from politically conservative figures outside the university who are determined to undermine the liberal orientation of contemporary elite campuses,” Teutsch said.

Gay’s resignation was applauded by several conservative lawmakers, including Stefanik.

Rachel B. Tiven ’96, a spokesperson for the Harvard Progressive Jewish Alumni, also pointed to the power of external voices.

“We asked people on campus what the climate was like for Jewish students and they said the thing that’s making it difficult to be Jewish at Harvard right now is outside shouting by people who are not current students,” Tiven said.

Marwan Durzi, a representative for Harvard Alumni in Palestine, criticized the circumstances surrounding Gay’s resignation.

“The whole setup was meant to frame leaders of top U.S. universities by twisting realities,” he wrote, suggesting that Gay’s resignation was the result of a manipulated narrative rather than a reflection of her leadership skills.

Durzi also expressed concerns about the future of political and academic discourse at Harvard.

“We are very concerned about the state of free speech and academic freedom at school,” he wrote.

While alumni are divided over Gay’s time in office and resignation, even her critics said they remain hopeful for Harvard’s future.

“We should not give up on Harvard,” Melamed said. “Harvard is a great institution that is facing a crisis now.”

—Staff writer Tyler J.H. Ory can be reached at Follow him on X at @tyler_ory.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X at @dhruvtkpatel.

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AlumniClaudine GayIsrael Palestine