Claudine Gay: Harvard president resigns following months of scandal

She faced criticism for her response to reports of anti-Semitism on university's campus

Former Harvard president Claudine Gay testifies before Congress during a hearing about anti-Semitism on university campuses. AFP
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Harvard University president Claudine Gay resigned on Tuesday following a short tenure that was plagued by her response to anti-Semitic incidents on campus and allegations of plagiarism.

“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,” she said in an email to students obtained by The New York Times.

“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.”

The Corporation, Harvard's governing body, said later on Tuesday: "It is with that overarching consideration in mind that we have accepted her resignation. We do so with sorrow."

Alan Garber, Harvard provost, will serve as interim president until a new leader for the university is chosen.

Ms Gay's presidency was thrown into turmoil over how she responded to reports of anti-Semitism on Harvard's campus. The university is one of several throughout the US which has seen a rise in pro-Palestinian activism amid the Israel-Gaza war.

During a congressional hearing last month, Ms Gay defended US universities that have to defend free speech while also combating hate. She and two other university presidents said forms of hate included anti-Semitism as well as anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian sentiments.

In an exchange with US Representative Elise Stefanik, Ms Gay declined to provide a “yes” or “no” answer when asked if calling for genocide of Jewish people violated university codes of conduct.

“Harvard knows that this long overdue forced resignation of the anti-Semitic plagiarist president is just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history,” said Ms Stefanik.

In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, Ms Gay apologised for her remarks during the hearing. She also sought to clarify her position through Harvard University's X account.

“Let me be clear: calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group, are vile, they have no place at Harvard and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account,” Ms Gay said in a statement.

Hundreds of Harvard faculty members backed Ms Gay amid calls for her to resign in September, and the Corporation said on December 12 that “we unanimously stand in support of President Gay”.

Ms Gray's position became untenable in recent weeks over allegations of plagiarism, in which she was accused of not properly citing sources in her academic work. She faced more accusations of plagiarism on Tuesday that were published on conservative outlet The Free Beacon.

Updated: January 02, 2024, 7:45 PM