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As Harvard President Claudine Gay Resigns, Spotlight Moves to Harvard Corporation

Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker '81 is facing calls to resign as she prepares to launch the University's second president search in three years.
Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker '81 is facing calls to resign as she prepares to launch the University's second president search in three years. By J. Sellers Hill
By Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writers

Former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation on Tuesday put the spotlight on the Harvard Corporation and Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 as calls grew for members of the University’s top board to follow suit.

The Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — is facing increased scrutiny over its own role in the most significant leadership crisis to face Harvard in decades, including how it handled allegations of plagiarism against Gay and the wider backlash against her leadership.

After Gay’s disastrous testimony before Congress alongside two other university presidents, a torrent of condemnation flooded down on the schools.

And when University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill resigned just four days after the hearing, the chairman of UPenn’s Board of Trustees Scott Bok also stepped down from his role the same day.

But even as Gay departs the Harvard presidency, it seems that Pritzker, who leads the Corporation, will remain — at least for now.

Behind the scenes, the Corporation played a key role in preparing Gay for her widely criticized congressional testimony on Dec. 5, and a four-person subcommittee of the board conducted an investigation into the claims of plagiarism against Gay.

The Corporation was first informed of the plagiarism allegations in late October when they launched an independent investigation of anonymous claims privately sent by the New York Post. Harvard’s lawyers from Clare Locke — a high-powered law firm specializing in defamation lawsuits — threatened to sue the Post for the claims before the investigation unearthed several instances of inadequate citation.

After Gay’s testimony before Congress — during which she declined to say whether calls for the genocide of Jewish people would violate University policies — the Corporation waited one week before releasing a unanimous statement in support of her presidency.

The board also qualified their Dec. 12 statement of support by noting that the decision was reached after “extensive deliberation” — a significant public rebuke of a new president.

WilmerHale partner and former Corporation senior fellow William F. Lee ’72 played a major role in the testimony preparations despite having departed the board and also not specializing in congressional testimony preparation, The Crimson previously reported.

Lee’s role in the preparation raised questions about his lingering influence over the board and the role the Corporation itself played in the testimony prep, which may have contributed to the group’s decision to back Gay last month.

Just minutes after Gay announced her resignation, the Harvard Corporation released an email statement to affiliates thanking Gay for her dedication to the school and pointing to her previous apology.

The email — which did not acknowledge the board’s previous unanimous statement in support of Gay — suggested that Gay’s resignation was her own choice.

“We have accepted her resignation,” the email reads. “We do so with sorrow.”

No members of the Corporation — including Pritzker — have released personal statements on Gay’s resignation.

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

When allegations of plagiarism — which have continued to surface — were first reported, the Corporation and its presidential search process that selected Gay were further shoved into the national spotlight.

Lasting only five months, the search that promoted Gay to the University’s top post marked the shortest presidential selection process in 70 years — and it led to the shortest presidential tenure in Harvard’s history.

Amid the mounting uncertainty surrounding Gay’s leadership, two members of the Harvard Corporation — Tracy P. Palandjian ’93 and outgoing University Treasurer Paul J. Finnegan ’75 — met with leaders of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard on Dec. 19.

Though the group did not discuss Gay’s resignation, according to the four faculty in attendance, two weeks later, she announced her exit from the University’s top post.

As public scrutiny of Harvard begins to shift from Gay to the Corporation that selected her, some prominent alumni and donors have advocated for changes to the board — including new personnel.

In a Monday post on X prior to Gay’s resignation, Bill A. Ackman ’88 — one of Gay’s harshest critics and another major donor to the University — called for an “immediate investigation” into the Harvard Corporation. In particular, Ackman took aim at the board’s handling of the plagiarism allegations against Gay.

In an interview with The Crimson, Peter L. Malkin ’55 — a major Harvard donor and the namesake of the Malkin Athletic Center — called for members of the Corporation that selected Gay to step down.

“I do think that the relatively hasty action by the Corporation in the search process indicated to me that not a full review was made of qualified candidates who are out there,” Malkin said.

Kenneth G. Lipper, a former member of the Executive Committee of the Committee of University Resources — a group consisting of people who have donated at least $1 million to Harvard — urged the University to focus on the future and Garber’s path forward as interim president.

“When we suffer a great loss,” Lipper said, “we must analyze the whys, repair what we can, and accelerate into a fresh performance phase reflective of our 300-year history of scholarly achievement and national leadership.”

—Staff writer Emma H. Haidar can be reached at emma.haidar@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @HaidarEmma.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at cam.kettles@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cam_kettles or on Threads @camkettles.

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