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Editorial Snippets: Reflecting on a Tumultuous Winter Break

By Frank S. Zhou

Over winter break, Harvard lost its president — a historic crescendo in a national news story that beat on for several months. The surprising development came after a tense semester on campus as controversy relating to the Israel-Hamas war intensified at Harvard and as former University President Claudine Gay came under scrutiny for allegations of plagiarism. Gay’s resignation has been cast nationally as the result of a racist double standard applied to Harvard’s first Black president, a delayed response to a compromised leader who fumbled several key decisions, and the product of a sustained right-wing smear campaign.

How should we view this moment of Harvard’s history? We asked our Editorial Board’s editors for their thoughts on several key questions, as Gay’s tenure enters the rearview mirror and the University lurches into a new semester — and new era — ahead.

What aspect of winter break’s saga, in your view, has been insufficiently discussed in the national discourse about Harvard?

This winter, irony reigned supreme.

Pre-testimony, Gay’s sharpest critics were from the pro-Palestinian left. Months later, much of that coalition had no choice but to defend her from bad faith far-right attacks.

Bill A. Ackman ’88 was a primary plagiarism patroller until journalists found his wife committed the same depravity. Suddenly, he was an avowed apologist.

Upon resignation, Gay turned to the New York Times to respond. She didn’t mention how the Times’ ridiculously outsized, borderline-obsessive coverage of Harvard was critical in her ousting.

Our phones erupted with push notifications that mattered to so few outside the Harvard bubble, yet occupied the forefront of the media’s mind.

As Trump peddled echoes of Hitler and Gaza’s buildings were flattened and synagogues received bomb threat after bomb threat, the NYT front page spotlighted Harvard over and over again.

I wonder how many columnists and editors were former Crimson writers. Perhaps nostalgia for 14 Plympton St. filled their souls as they wrote again of their alma mater.

Shame it did so much damage.

—Matthew E. Nekritz ’25, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Cabot House.

What I found conspicuously absent in the discussion around Harvard is any talk of why, exactly, there exists a near obsessive focus on Harvard in the national and even international media and discourse. Though some may argue that the attention paid to Harvard distracts from real-world problems, the other conversation that appears obscured is one around the challenges facing other universities and campuses. Antisemitism and bigotry, DEI and race relations, admissions policies and affirmative action — none of these are unique to Harvard, yet something about the Harvard name magnifies the intensity of and focus on them here.

I find the assumption that trends at Harvard are necessarily representative of universities nationally troubling as well, as aside from allowing us to ignore other campuses, it intensifies tensions on campus when they are seen as a microcosm, and possible harbinger, of what is to come elsewhere.

—Charles M. Covit ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Holworthy Hall.

Following Gay’s resignation, I saw many — including this Editorial Board and Gay herself — publicly decry the racist, opportunist campaign that drove her out.

I saw far fewer acknowledge the profound flaws of her presidency.

Gay failed to address the sharp rise in anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia on our campus, and her condemnation of certain pro-Palestine phrases chilled free speech.

Still, this wasn’t enough for some. Gay’s inability to deliver a complete elimination of pro-Palestine organizing made her a target for all those who seek to undermine it with specious invocations of antisemitism.

Gay’s loudest critics were not just opposed to a Black woman holding a position of power, but also opposed to all criticism of Israel — a salient reminder of the ways in which white supremacy and Zionism converge.

Ironically, in many ways, the injustice that ended Gay’s presidency also defined it.

—Violet T.M. Barron ’26, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Adams House.

I fear that Claudine Gay’s resignation sent a dangerous message to anti-education crusaders: What you just did worked. Right-wing activists, aided by their congressional cronies and hedge fund hypocrites, can hijack and hyperbolize campus controversies to vilify diversity and topple the president of the richest university in the country. And mainstream media will go right along with it. What’s to stop this from happening again?

—Saul I.M. Arnow ’26, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Social Studies concentrator in Adams House.

Much has been made of the conservative origins of the plagiarism allegations that Gay faced, and how the Republican-led Congress has enthusiastically accepted upon itself the initiative of holding Harvard to account for a whole host of flaws — from their unwillingness to take a strong stance against antisemitism to their past president’s plagiarism history. According to this narrative, Republicans and conservative activists hell-bent on winning back the White House this election year have picked Harvard as their favorite boogeyman in their raging culture wars.

But less attention has been paid to the obvious question this narrative raises. Why all the fuss? Why is hating Harvard such a salient emotion for so many Republican voters in this country?

The truth is that many Americans look at Harvard and see a foreign culture — one where an ideology of intersectionality has seeped into a tolerance of antisemitism, where moral flippancy with regard to Hamas’ terrorism and rape runs deep, and where policies are selectively enforced when it comes to University leaders. Beyond conservative critiques of Harvard’s culture, there are legitimate critiques of our community: Harvard’s people largely hail from a socioeconomic elite and justify their privileged status on the basis of supposed merit. Characterizing Gay’s resignation as a right-wing campaign while ignoring these very real grievances is akin to pulling a blindfold over our eyes and pretending the credibility crisis facing higher education is everyone’s fault but our own.

—Jacob M. Miller, a Crimson Editorial Chair, is a Mathematics concentrator in Lowell House.

What are you hoping to see from Harvard this semester during this period of tumult?

The events of the past several months have reminded me of the harms of stress and instability. I hope that my classmates will be freed of this weight and that the University will restore stability and tranquility so we can all pursue our best work together.

—Ian M. Moore ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, in an Applied Mathematics concentrator in Quincy House.

This campus and its people are grieving.

We grieve the tragedy of events unfolding in Israel and Palestine; we grieve the loss of stability and feelings of safety on our campus; we grieve for our naivete of believing that this school was a place of higher learning rather than the subject of divisive discourse and national headlines.

As we move forward, the path to healing can only be found away from the intense political pressure and the glare of near-constant media coverage. The administration must move away from legalistic rhetoric and compassionately move through the tension. Harvard must find itself again if it has any hope of weathering the future.

The school must remember its students and protect them first.

—Hea Pushpraj ’25, an Editorial Comp Director, is a History concentrator in Adams House.

I imagine it would be difficult for Harvard to begin the difficult process of reforming the University while it consistently makes headlines. The spotlight will only continue to dull Harvard’s shine and shove its already-exposed weaknesses further into the limelight.

The new administration should focus on getting Harvard out of the news cycle. Only then can the University begin the difficult work of deciding which policies should stay and which should go. With trust in institutions of higher education already in decline before Harvard’s many recent scandals, the administration should choose its language and policies with more care than its predecessors.

—Max A. Palys ’26, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a double concentrator in Mathematics and East Asian Studies in Currier House.

How has this news story shifted your overall perspective on Harvard, higher ed, and the world at large?

The act of wearing a Harvard sweatshirt has gone from being asked about my major to being asked about the state of our campus.

The national spotlight on Harvard has hit me more than ever during this turmoil. I have come to wonder when I will be able to wear my crimson sweatshirt without being put under the microscope by cashiers, receptionists, and other strangers in my hometown.

Or was the microscope always there, and I was just naive enough to neglect the spectacle that Harvard embodies to the rest of the world?

—Hailey E. Krasnikov ’25, a Crimson Diversity & Inclusion Chair, is a Neuroscience & Economics concentrator in Winthrop House.

The persistent curiosity of near-strangers. My father’s growing pile of newspaper clippings on the dining room table. A stream of unsolicited opinions.

I went home, but school followed, leaching into every headline and conversation. Harvard has always seemed ubiquitous, but it used to feel like the name glittered. Now, in the limelight, it just seems to glare.

—McKenna E. McKrell ’26, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Classics concentrator in Adams House.

The leadership crisis has reiterated to me the persistent double standard provided for women of color in power — especially in hyper-visible positions. Gay’s swift removal reflected that we are typically relied on for leadership in times of crisis, which can unfortunately lead to our swift disposal as well. Although it was odd to navigate such a historical moment in my first few months on campus, I ultimately feel as if it was an unsurprising outcome.

—Jasmine N. Wynn ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Thayer Hall.

Harvard’s leadership crisis accelerated the politicization of higher education. When Claudine Gay resigned, this reality became clear as I flipped channels, seeing Fox News lament Harvard’s “wokeness” and MSNBC condemn the University’s conservative critics.

These events, however, did not occur in a vacuum. Higher education became increasingly political — as the Crimson reported, professors are overwhelmingly liberal leaning. Recently, the controversial campus reactions to the Israel-Hamas War, combined with discussions of diversity, equity, and inclusion following Claudine Gay’s inauguration as president, triggered an intense national focus on and criticism of Harvard for its politics.

Because of its history and prominence, Harvard is widely perceived as more than simply a place to learn, but a representation of what academia should aspire to be. Unfortunately, this reputation is threatened; the accelerated politicization is divisive, diminishing the value of a college education and reflective of widespread politicization in today’s society.

—Catherine E. Previn ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Thayer Hall.

Work twice as hard to earn half as much. This phrase represents the sentiment many Black Americans face — in order to receive equal treatment, you must be diligent, relentless, and perfect. While I do not believe Gay’s tenure at Harvard was seamless, she is the very antithesis of white supremacy’s greatest fear: people of color in power.

The daughter of immigrants. Graduate of Stanford and Harvard. Black scholar. Gay is a personification of the “American Dream.” While the context of her resignation is multifaceted, it represents a larger problem. Institutions of power that claim to protect, honor, and meaningfully contribute to the lives of people of color must actively put their words into action.

We must protect institutes of higher education — and minority scholars — from the right wing attacks.

—M. Austen Wyche ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Canaday Hall.

I didn’t expect to place bets on the length of my president’s tenure. I didn’t expect to see her parodied on “Saturday Night Live.” I didn’t expect to watch arguments unfold through Instagram stories. I didn’t expect my close friends to be facing disciplinary action for resisting administrative suppression. Most of all, I didn’t expect that history would be made during my sophomore year of college.

—Julia S. Dan ’26, an Associate Editorial Editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House.

The shock of the events surrounding the leadership of the University over the last few months was seemingly endless — ruthless attacks on distinguished scholars and divisive news coverage abounded. Still, what’s shifted most is not my view on the lengths people will go to harm the careers of those they disagree with, rather my view of Harvard as an institution, one that seemingly was always regarded as a bastion of academic prestige, even in the face of controversy. As the University bent to the will of critics, donors, and journalists, it set a dangerous precedent about the autonomy and integrity of higher education institutions.

—Sidnee N. Klein, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Sociology concentrator in Currier House.

When I received Gay’s resignation email, I was shocked. While I knew she’d been called to resign, the support she received from the Harvard Corporation following her ghastly congressional testimony gave me hope. It was not impossible to recognize her faults and seek her redemption. I wanted her to fight, right her wrongs. I’ve found it disheartening how there was little room to discuss any kind of vindication. The Harvard Corporation made a statement shortly after her resignation, and what shocked me further was the lack of statements discussing the leadership crisis between their clear support for her and their acknowledgment of her resignation. Plagiarism counts both preceded and followed that initial message of support, but where was the communication from the Corporation then? I’ve learned that Harvard’s vexatious tendency to keep their students and greater community out of the loop is one that I will have to cope with.

—Jaila C. Mabry ’27, a Crimson Editorial Editor, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.

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