‘Difficult beyond words’: Embattled Harvard President Claudine Gay resigns from her position

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Embattled Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned from her position as leader of the prestigious Ivy League school on Tuesday following weeks of campus turmoil that included plagiarism accusations and backlash over antisemitism testimony.

Gay announced her resignation in a letter she penned to the Harvard community. The Crimson reported that her decision to step down marks the end of the shortest presidency in the university’s history.

Gay’s decision to resign comes amid a Congressional investigation into plagiarism allegations that have been made against her. In a letter sent to Harvard University, the Republican-led Education and Workforce Committee confirmed that it’s looking into Gay’s record over 24 years.

Gay first came under intense scrutiny following a hearing in which she and two of her peers struggled to answer questions about campus antisemitism.

In the letter, Gay said that it’s been “distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor.”

Gay wrote in full:

“It is with a heavy heart but a deep love for Harvard that I write to share that I will be stepping down as president. This is not a decision I came to easily. Indeed, it has been difficult beyond words because I have looked forward to working with so many of you to advance the commitment to academic excellence that has propelled this great university across centuries. But, after consultation with members of the 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.

It is a singular honor to be a member of this university, which has been my home and my inspiration for most of my professional career. My deep sense of connection to Harvard and its people has made it all the more painful to witness the tensions and divisions that have riven our community in recent months, weakening the bonds of trust and reciprocity that should be our sources of strength and support in times of crisis. Amidst all of this, 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.

I believe in the people of Harvard because I see in you the possibility and the promise of a better future. These last weeks have helped make clear the work we need to do to build that future—to combat bias and hate in all its forms, to create a learning environment in which we respect each other’s dignity and treat one another with compassion, and to affirm our enduring commitment to open inquiry and free expression in the pursuit of truth. I believe we have within us all that we need to heal from this period of tension and division and to emerge stronger. I had hoped with all my heart to lead us on that journey, in partnership with all of you. As I now return to the faculty, and to the scholarship and teaching that are the lifeblood of what we do, I pledge to continue working alongside you to build the community we all deserve.

When I became president, I considered myself particularly blessed by the opportunity to serve people from around the world who saw in my presidency a vision of Harvard that affirmed their sense of belonging—their sense that Harvard welcomes people of talent and promise, from every background imaginable, to learn from and grow with one another. To all of you, please know that those doors remain open, and Harvard will be stronger and better because they do.

As we welcome a new year and a new semester, I hope we can all look forward to brighter days. Sad as I am to be sending this message, my hopes for Harvard remain undimmed. When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity—and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education. I trust we will all find ways, in this time of intense challenge and controversy, to recommit ourselves to the excellence, openness, and independence that are crucial to what our university stands for—and to our capacity to serve the world.”

Gay, along with Penn President Liz Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth, were grilled for five hours on how their institutions had responded to instances of antisemitism on campuses.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate each university’s code of conduct. Gay responded to the question, saying that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.”

Her response faced swift backlash from Republican and some Democratic lawmakers as well as the White House.

Stefanik said in a statement Tuesday, “I will always deliver results. The resignation of Harvard’s antisemitic plagiarist president is long overdue. Claudine Gay’s morally bankrupt answers to my questions made history as the most viewed Congressional testimony in the history of the U.S. Congress. Her answers were absolutely pathetic and devoid of the moral leadership and academic integrity required of the President of Harvard. This is just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history.”

The Harvard Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, had pledged support for Gay despite the backlash.

In a statement Tuesday, the Corporation said in part, “It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted her resignation. We do so with sorrow. While President Gay has acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them, it is also true that she has shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks. While some of this has played out in the public domain, much of it has taken the form of repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls. We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms.”

The Corporation noted that Gay will now resume her faculty position at Harvard and the search for a new president will begin “in due course.”

Harvard Professor of Government Ryan Enos said he is one of the hundreds of faculty members who signed a letter of support for Gay last month.

“I was very sad when I heard this news. I was sad for Claudine Gay because I don’t think she deserves this as a person or as a scholar,” Enos said. “I hope Claudine Gay’s legacy will be that Harvard will reexamine its commitment to things like free speech and its commitment to academic independence and that we will have systems and principles in place that will allow us to resist this type of political pressure moving forward.”

Campus Rabbi Getzel Davis of the Harvard Hillel shared the following thoughts in a statement:

“The most important priority for Harvard Hillel is that our university is a safe and inclusive environment for Jewish students and for all students. We look forward to continuing to work with the next president of Harvard and the rest of the senior University administration, to ensure that Jewish students are able to safely express their identities on our campus. At Harvard Hillel, we will continue to focus on keeping students safe, supporting their emotional health, fostering spiritual growth, and sustaining vibrant Jewish life. We also look forward to collaborating with University leadership on a number of important changes outlined in the letter from December 19.”

Roni Brunn, a spokesperson for the Harvard Jewish Alumni Alliance, called the resignation an “unfortunate chapter” in Harvard’s history, saying in part:

“Claudine Gay’s resignation closes an unfortunate chapter in Harvard’s nearly 400-year history. In her repeated failures to condemn calls for complete and utter obliteration of Jews, Claudine Gay tacitly encouraged those who sought to spread hate at Harvard, where many Jews no longer feel safe to study, identify, and fully participate in the Harvard community. It’s our hope that Harvard’s next President begins their term by loudly and clearly stating that antisemitism has absolutely no place on campus, that strong action will follow to make that commitment a reality, and that the institution will return to its roots as a world-renowned center of learning and research rooted in civil discourse and academic integrity. For the past three months, the Harvard Jewish Alumni Alliance has tried to engage President Gay and the Corporation, but we were unsuccessful. We represent several thousand Harvard Jewish alumni who support the students, faculty, and administrators whose voices have been silenced by hate on campus. We are happy to have the opportunity to work with a President at Harvard who is ready to collaborate with us to craft a campus environment where everyone is equally respected.”

Alan M. Garber, provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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