Multimedia

In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises

News

Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

News

Former Harvard President Bacow, Maria Ressa to Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement

News

‘A’ Game: How Harvard Recruits its Student-Athletes

News

Interim Harvard President Alan Garber Takes the Political Battle to Washington

While Some Harvard Students Say Gay’s Resignation Sets ‘Bad Precedent,’ Others Say It Is Long Overdue

Harvard students had mixed reactions to the resignation of former Harvard President Claudine Gay.
Harvard students had mixed reactions to the resignation of former Harvard President Claudine Gay. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard students had mixed reactions to the resignation of former University President Claudine Gay — while some viewed it as necessary to uphold academic integrity, others saw it as a surrender to influential donors and political actors.

Gay’s decision to step down from the presidency Tuesday afternoon cemented her tenure as the shortest in the University’s history and bookended a stormy semester in which she faced calls to resign over her controversial congressional testimony and allegations of plagiarism.

In a Tuesday email to affiliates, Gay wrote 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.”

Several students said they felt the resignation proved the influence of outside actors — such as hedge fund CEO Bill A. Ackman ’88, conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo, and Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) — in swaying the University’s decisions.

“Setting the precedent that rich and powerful people can throw their money around and bully America’s institutions into doing whatever they want is something that will lead to terrible consequences in the future,” Chukwudi M. Ilozue ’25 wrote in an email.

Jeremy O.S. Ornstein ’24, who organized a student rally last month in support of Gay remaining in office, said that while he accepts the resignation, he is frustrated by the news.

“I think that it’s so frustrating and disquieting and unfortunate that vindictive billionaires and spiteful politicians — and I’m thinking about Bill Ackman and representative Stefanik, and others — were able to influence the University,” Ornstein said.

Ornstein added that he hopes Harvard’s next president is “inspired by Gay’s aspirations” to “have a vigorous public debate” over contentious issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“We need bold and imaginative solutions, but we can’t have those conversations on a college campus if we’re catering to the whims of people who have very clear ideological agendas,” he said. “They’re trying to go viral, and they’re trying to take over Harvard from outside Harvard.”

Ackman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article.

In an emailed statement, Ali P. Black, a spokesperson for Stefanik, wrote that “Gay’s long overdue resignation is a result of her and Harvard’s failed leadership on the global stage.”

Students also pointed to the brightened spotlight on Harvard in recent months and the outsized presence of external voices, including donors. In response to Gay’s leadership crisis, some of the University’s top donors paused their contributions to Harvard — prompting worries from fundraising officers.

Daniella M. Berrospi ’24 wrote that Gay’s resignation “seemed to be influenced more by external factors than by her personal volition.”

“I think a part of her reason for resigning was to safeguard the retention of certain donors for Harvard, thereby ensuring the stability of funding for essential endeavors such as financial aid,” Berrospi wrote. “It really felt like she was making a call in favor of the students, trying to shift the focus back on them.”

But other students heralded the news of Gay’s resignation, which they said was necessary for Harvard to properly address the plagiarism allegations and rebuild trust with Jewish affiliates.

Alexander L.S. Bernat ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, said that he was walking his dog when he received a text from a friend about Gay’s resignation. Bernat said he was “very excited” and that Gay’s resignation should have come earlier.

“I think — as a Jewish student on campus, as someone who cares about academic integrity — this kind of went on for too long,” Bernat said. “The best time for her to resign would have been after the hearing and right after the allegations came out and were deemed credible, but the second best time was now.”

Joshua A. Kaplan ’26, a Crimson Editorial editor, wrote in an emailed statement Tuesday that Gay’s resignation is a “right step forward” for Harvard.

“I, along with many other Harvard students, look forward to the next president working to repair the university’s image and combat the hateful antisemitism and bigotry we have seen on our campus,” Kaplan wrote. “There is a long road forward, and this is a good beginning.”

Gay faced widespread condemnation for her testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Dec. 5, where representatives accused her of harboring antisemitic and genocidal speech on Harvard’s campus.

But some of the pro-Palestine student groups whose rhetoric was criticized at the hearing said Gay had failed to adequately protect pro-Palestinian speech.

A spokesperson for Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, whose October statement blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks sparked national furor, wrote in a statement Tuesday that the resignation “sets a chilling precedent for dissent.”

“President Gay, who played an active role in suppressing and mischaracterizing pro-Palestine speech, has fallen victim to the same suppression that she perpetrated against the students she failed to protect,” the spokesperson wrote.

Violet T.M. Barron ’26, an organizer with Harvard Jews for Palestine — a student group which staged a 24-hour occupation of University Hall in November — wrote in a statement on behalf of the group that “Jewish students have not been made suddenly safer” by the resignation.

“I hope Alan Garber and Harvard’s future president succeeds where Gay failed: in unflinchingly distinguishing between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, properly addressing Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism, and most importantly, ending the University’s ongoing complicity in genocide in Gaza,” wrote Barron, a Crimson Editorial editor.

Kashish Bastola ’26 said in an interview that Gay’s “inability to acknowledge the pain of so many different students, especially students of marginalized backgrounds” made the campus climate worse.

“I think there were just so many mounting cries and so much criticism against her,” Bastola said. “I think the plagiarism was just the cherry on top.”

Hiren Lami ’24 was sitting with her brother in her living room when she saw messages about the resignation.

“It really shocked me,” Lami said. “When I saw the president of UPenn resigned I was really surprised, but I thought that the same thing wouldn’t happen here.”

Lami added that Gay’s presidency — particularly as the first Black president of Harvard — was “meaningful” to her, and she said she was “disheartened” by the news.

“She really spoke to experiences that I could resonate with,” Lami said of Gay.

Lami, like many students, said Gay’s identity as a Black woman was a significant factor in calls for her resignation.

“I believe that there must have been some reason there’s an intense focus on her,” Lami said. “I think to divorce that from her identity and the way that she’s been a trailblazer in this type of position would be a little bit naive.”

Mikalah L. Hodge ’27 wrote in an email that Gay’s resignation served as a reminder that “Black people at Harvard are the first to be disposed of and the last to be cared for.”

“This is simply another pattern of abuse by a hedge fund disguised as a university,” Hodge wrote. “Allegations of plagiarism ought to be taken with the utmost seriousness, but this has never been about academic integrity.”

Ru’Quan S. Brown ’24 said in an interview Tuesday that Gay’s brief tenure and resignation might “make it more difficult for the next Black president.”

“Perhaps it makes it more difficult for them to stay put, because we all are assuming — at least Black people are assuming — that the next Black president will be tested just as she was tested,” he said.

The brief, crisis-filled nature of Gay’s tenure wasn’t lost on students, and Berrospi also pointed to the broader future of the Harvard presidency.

Berrospi wrote that Gay’s resignation “sets a bad precedent for future presidents.”

“I respect the fact that she was willing to admit that she made mistakes, but it’s a shame how people can be pretty unforgiving, even when you’re trying to make things right,” she wrote.

Bastola also said that though Gay’s appointment to the presidency brought joy and a hope that it would be “historic in good ways,” her resignation served as a “reminder that it wasn’t, and it hasn’t been since the beginning.”

“In some ways, her presidency was over before it even really got to begin,” Bastola said.

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @mnamponsah.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
Student GroupsStudent LifeCentral AdministrationAcademic IntegrityFront Middle FeatureFeatured ArticlesClaudine GayIsrael Palestine