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The Rise and Fall of Harvard President Claudine Gay
As Harvard President Claudine Gay Resigns, Spotlight Moves to Harvard Corporation
Updated January 2, 2024, at 7:15 p.m.
Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday afternoon, after fierce criticism of the University’s response to the Hamas attack on Israel and backlash from her disastrous congressional testimony spiraled into allegations of plagiarism and doubts about her personal academic integrity.
Gay’s tenure — of just six months and two days — is the shortest in Harvard’s history.
University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 will lead in the interim until a new president is selected.
Her decision to resign effective immediately, which was first reported by The Crimson, marked a stunning downfall for Gay, Harvard’s first Black president and former dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
The Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — announced that it would begin the presidential search process “in due course.” Though the email did not specify a timeline or announce the formation of a search committee, the process is expected to include soliciting feedback from Harvard affiliates.
A source close to Gay said she made her decision to resign last week.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Gay wrote that she chose to resign following discussions with members of the Harvard Corporation.
“It has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual,” Gay wrote.
Gay, 53, added that she will continue to serve on Harvard’s faculty.
In a follow up email just minutes later, the Corporation confirmed Gay’s resignation and thanked her for her service to the University.
“Her own message conveying her intention to step down eloquently underscores what those who have worked with her have long known – her commitment to the institution and its mission is deep and selfless,” the Corporation wrote.
In a statement to The Crimson, former Harvard President and Gay’s predecessor Lawrence S. Bacow wrote that the announcements saddened him.
“Claudine is a person of great intellect, integrity, vision and strength. She had much to contribute not just to Harvard, but to all of higher education. I regret that she will not have that opportunity,” Bacow wrote.
Gay took office as the University’s 30th president on July 1, just two days after the Supreme Court ruled against Harvard in a landmark decision that effectively ended the use of race-conscious admissions practices.
At the time, the future of Harvard’s admissions seemed to be the central focus of her presidency, which was expected to last for more than a decade.
That all changed on Oct. 7.
Gay faced national backlash over the University’s initial response to the Israel-Hamas war, which did not directly condemn Hamas or address a controversial pro-Palestine statement signed by more than 30 student groups.
Gay confronted scandal after scandal during her brief tenure at the helm of Harvard, making national headlines again following her congressional testimony about antisemitism on college campuses and the emergence of allegations of plagiarism in her scholarship.
All the while, Gay faced intense pressure from external voices calling for her removal or resignation, including Harvard donor Bill A. Ackman ’88, Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.), and conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo.
“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,” Gay wrote in her email Tuesday.
The announcement comes just three weeks after the Corporation announced unanimous support for Gay after “extensive deliberations” following the congressional hearing.
Gay is now the second university president who testified at the hearing to resign. University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned just days after her testimony.
In the last month, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce opened a congressional investigation into antisemitism at Harvard.
On Dec. 20, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce announced that it would expand its investigation into the plagiarism allegations against Gay and suggested it could jeopardize the University’s accreditation and federal funding. Harvard was in the process of providing the committee with a slew of requested documents related to the allegations before Gay’s resignation.
Donors, too, have been both privately and publicly halting their financial contributions to Harvard. Philanthropy accounts for nearly half of the University’s annual revenue, and the donor backlash sparked serious internal concern among Harvard’s fundraising staff.
Gay’s decision to step down elevated Garber, the University’s provost since 2011, to the role of interim president.
Garber has served on the faculty at the Harvard Medical School, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. As provost, Garber manages cross-school initiatives, overseeing university academics, employment, research, international affairs, and special projects like the Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery Initiative.
As interim president, Garber will face the difficult task of guiding Harvard through one of its most turbulent periods in nearly two decades. Garber, who is Jewish, will also be charged with uniting a campus that remains bitterly divided over the fighting in Israel and Gaza.
Garber wrote in a statement on Tuesday that as interim president he will focus on “advancing our mission and helping to heal and strengthen a university that I cherish.”
“There is much to be done, and while today has been a difficult day, I know what this community can accomplish together,” he added. “I am confident we will overcome challenges we face and build a brighter future for Harvard.”
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