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Claudine Gay resigns as Harvard University president

-Editorial

Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned in the wake of plagiarism allegations and scrutiny surrounding her testimony during a congressional hearing. The criticism came from her inability to assert definitively that calls for the genocide of Jews on campus would violate the school’s conduct policy.

On assuming office in 2023, she became Harvard’s first black president. Before that, she served as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Gay’s role as university president came to international media attention following the 2023 Hamas-led attack on Israel, when she was accused of not responding to antisemitism on campus and of not adequately condemning the attacks. In the aftermath of a congressional hearing on antisemitism, accusations that Gay had plagiarized parts of her dissertation and multiple papers resurfaced in various media outlets.

After the October 7, 2023 Hamas-led attack on Israel, Gay faced criticism, including from former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, for failing to adequately condemn the attacks.

In a December 2023 Congressional hearing on antisemitism, Gay and two other university presidents were accused by some members of Congress of not doing enough to condemn and combat antisemitism on Harvard’s campus. When asked if a hypothetical call for the genocide of Jewish people would qualify as a violation of Harvard’s code of conduct, Gay responded “It can be, depending on the context.” She later clarified: “Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct and we do take action.”

Gay’s remarks were broadly criticized in the media. In response, Gay apologized and said that some people “have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students”. A letter signed by 70 Congressional Representatives called for all three presidents to resign.

On December 11, more than 700 of Harvard’s 2,452 faculty members signed a letter opposing calls for her to be removed as university president, and Harvard’s Alumni Association stated it “unanimously and unequivocally” supported Gay’s leadership, praising her “for protecting academic freedom and the right of all students to voice their opinions”. On December 12, the board of the Harvard Corporation said they “unanimously” supported Gay’s leadership, adding: “President Gay has apologized for how she handled her congressional testimony and has committed to redoubling the University’s fight against antisemitism.”

Soon after the December 2023 congressional hearing, Gay was accused of plagiarism by conservative activists Christopher Rufo and Aaron Sibarium. As summarized by The New York Times, the allegations concerned “using material from other sources without proper attribution in her dissertation and about half of the 11 journal articles listed on her résumé. The examples range from brief snippets of technical definitions to paragraphs summing up other scholars’ research that are only lightly paraphrased, and in some cases lack any direct citation of the other scholars.” Harvard University initially decried such allegations as “demonstrably false” when contacted by the New York Post in October 2023 for comment on a planned story about 27 “possible examples of plagiarism”, and threatened to sue the newspaper for libel. However, a subsequent internal review requested by Gay herself found “instances of inadequate citation”.

In response, Gay said she stood behind the integrity of her work. The Harvard Corporation reported that the review found “a few instances of inadequate citation” in her work, but “no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.”

Gay requested corrections to add citations and quotation marks to her dissertation and two of her articles. Harvard University announced on December 20 that it had discovered two additional instances of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution”, giving rise to concerns whether the Harvard Corporation’s process for investigating the allegations “has been overly lenient with” Gay, according to The New York Times.

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