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‘The Right Thing to Do’: As Some Lawmakers Celebrate Harvard President Claudine Gay’s Resignation, Others Offer Disappointment

Local and national lawmakers and political leaders offered mixed reactions to former Harvard President Claudine Gay's Tuesday resignation.
Local and national lawmakers and political leaders offered mixed reactions to former Harvard President Claudine Gay's Tuesday resignation. By Julian J. Giordano
By Jack R. Trapanick, Crimson Staff Writer

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Massachusetts elected officials, and local Cambridge leaders offered mixed views on former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s Tuesday resignation, with reactions ranging from triumph to outrage.

Gay — who took office in July just more than six months ago — announced her resignation in an email to Harvard affiliates Tuesday afternoon, marking her tenure as the shortest presidency in Harvard history.

Gay’s departure follows a series of scandals over the University’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, including Gay’s controversial testimony at a congressional hearing on antisemitism and mounting allegations of plagiarism in her academic work.

Many conservative lawmakers celebrated Gay’s exit from the University’s top post.

Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) — who has repeatedly called for Gay to step down and led the most aggressive line of questioning during the Dec. 5 congressional hearing — took to social media to celebrate Gay’s resignation.

Still, Stefanik wrote in a statement on Instagram Tuesday that the controversy that plagued Gay’s presidency was symptomatic of a broader “rot” in higher education.

“This is just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history,” she wrote.

Other Republican members of Congress shared similar sentiments.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) — who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce currently investigating Harvard over alleged antisemitism on campus — wrote in a press release that “postsecondary education is in a tailspin.”

“There has been a hostile takeover of postsecondary education by political activists, woke faculty, and partisan administrators,” she added.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment for this article.

House Speaker Mike Johnson also celebrated Gay’s resignation, calling it “overdue” in a post on X.

But several Democratic politicians said they were dismayed at the announcement, with some blaming Gay’s decision to resign on alleged racism and donor influence.

Jason M. Lewis ’90, a Massachusetts state senator who represents the Fifth Middlesex district, wrote in an email to The Crimson that Gay was “the victim of a concerted political campaign to undermine and impugn her scholarship and leadership.”

Lewis also alleged that “wealthy donors” held an outsized influence over Harvard, which he called “very unfortunate.”

Rep. Jamie B. Raskin ’83 (D-Md.) said in an interview with the Crimson Tuesday night that Gay had faced “a ferocious campaign mobilized against her on Fox News and in the right wing media,” though he acknowledged that Gay’s performance during the Dec. 5 congressional testimony “did not show the best common sense.”

In a statement to the Crimson, Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons — who was elected to the office for her third term by the city council just Monday — wrote she was “saddened by this turn of events” and praised Gay as a “strong, accomplished woman of color.”

Simmons, who was the first Black, openly lesbian mayor in the country, also called on Harvard to appoint another woman of color as Gay’s successor.

Cornel R. West ’73 — a former Harvard professor and independent candidate for president — attributed Gay’s departure to the efforts of outspoken critics including billionaire hedge fund manager Bill A. Ackman ’88, anti-affirmative action activist Edward J. Blum, and former University President Lawrence H. Summers.

“How sad but predictable that the same figures and forces enabling the ethnic cleansing and genocidal attacks on Palestinians in Gaza - Ackman, Blum, Summers and others - push out the first Black woman president of Harvard!” West wrote on X. “This racism against both Palestinians and Black people is undeniable and despicable!”

In her resignation email Tuesday, Gay wrote that she had faced “personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” though she did not directly cite them as reasons for her exit.

Several Republican lawmakers indicated that they plan on supporting legislation to target ongoing issues on Harvard’s campus.

Sen. Dan S. Sullivan ’87 (R-Alaska) wrote in a series of posts on X that Gay’s resignation was “the right thing to do” and called for legislation to promote free speech at higher education institutions.

“In the New Year, I’ll be working on legislation to reform these once-respected education & research institutions and restore their commitment to the core values of academic excellence, free inquiry and expression, the pursuit of truth, and a commitment to our country’s founding principles,” Sullivan wrote.

Foxx also expressed her intent to pass legislation on higher education in the coming year.

“The Committee is working hard on policy reforms to the Higher Education Act and to restore the value of college education for students and taxpayers,” Foxx wrote.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at jack.trapanick@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackrtrapanick.

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