Harvard president resigns but will stay on as lecturer making nearly $1m a year

Claudine Gay refused to confirm if calling for genocide of Jews was against university rules in a now infamous congressional hearing


WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 05: (L-R) Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, Liz Magill, President of University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Sally Kornbluth, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Committee held a hearing to investigate antisemitism on college campuses. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The president of Harvard has finally resigned over extensive plagiarism that came to light after she told Congress students could call for the genocide of Jews on campus.

Claudine Gay shook off the antisemitism row after she told Congress on 5 December that such calls for genocide were allowed “depending on the context”.

But she has now been forced to leave the Ivy League university after more than 40 examples of plagiarism in her academic work were discovered.

“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,” Dr Gay wrote in a letter.

After consulting with members of the President and Fellows of Harvard College — also called the Harvard Corporation — she said it became "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”.

She also claimed that criticism of the way that she handled antisemitism on campus and charges that she plagiarised the work of other scholars were unfounded, and even hateful.

“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,” she wrote.

She did not mention Jew-hatred specifically, referring only to “hate in all its forms”.

She went on: “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, the openness, and the independence that are crucial to what our university stands for — and to our capacity to serve the world.”

In a statement Harvard said: “With great sadness, we write in light of President Claudine Gay’s message announcing her intention to step down from the presidency and resume her faculty position at Harvard.”

The university thanked Gay, who will remain a Harvard professor reportedly with a salary of nearly $900,000, for her “deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence.

"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. It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted her resignation.”

“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," it said.

"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.”

Gay is the second college president to quit over the testimony to Congress. Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania resigned days afterwards.

Harvard academics accused Gay of failing to hold herself to the same standards as students at the college who would have been removed if they had committed similar plagiarism.

Gay began her tenure last July. It was the shortest of any president in the history of Harvard since its founding in 1636. She was the first black president to lead the university.

At the Congressional hearing, Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, addressed three university presidents.

“At Harvard,” Stefanik asked Gay, “does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?"

Dr. Gay replied: “It can be, depending on the context.”

Afterwards Dr. Gay tried to contain the fallout with an apology.

“When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” she said.

The Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body, issued a statement of support for Dr. Gay at the time.

But the body then launched an investigation into her after more and more examples were found.

Carol Swain, a political scientist, said that she was “livid,” at Dr. Gay’s use of her work and at Harvard’s defence of her.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive