On Jan. 2, 2024, Harvard President Dr. Claudine Gay announced her resignation effective immediately. Gay resigned after facing controversy over her handling of student discipline during the Israel-Hamas war along with plagiarism allegations brought against her. Gay’s tenure at Harvard was the shortest in the school’s history.
Dr. Gay became became Harvard’s president on Jul. 1, 2023. She was previously the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and a professor of Government and African and African American Studies. Gay was the university’s first Black president and the second woman to hold the position.
“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 said in a statement on the Harvard website. “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.”
The letter also mentioned attacks she received before her resignation. “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 said.
Harvard received public attention on Oct. 7, 2023, when the Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee, along with 33 student groups, released a statement accusing Israel of being responsible for the current Israel-Hamas war. “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” the letter said.
According to the Crimson, the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s Instagram page initially posted the letter. The statement was widely criticized, with business leaders saying it attempted to justify Hamas’ actions, with some individuals saying the students who signed the letter should have their names revealed, an idea that also received criticism. Some student groups who signed later retracted their signature following the backlash.
After the committee posted the letter, some students who signed it were doxed and had their names posted on a truck billboard. Other students had their personal information posted online as well.
Dr. Gay released a statement on Oct. 10, 2023, writing, “As the events of recent days continue to reverberate, let there be no doubt that I condemn the terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.” She said, “Such inhumanity is abhorrent, whatever one’s individual views of the origins of long standing conflicts in the region.”
Dr. Gay later said, “Let me also state, on this matter as on others, that while our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”
On Oct. 13, 2023, Dr. Gay released a message on YouTube where she stated that Harvard is against hate, supports free expression, and said that applies “even towards views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous.”
Harvard continued to deal with the controversy in the following weeks. The university was a subject of an United States Department of Education (DOE) investigation into antisemitism and islamophobia on college campuses.
Dr. Gay participated in a hearing with the DOE, along with leaders from University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She attracted criticism after answering a question from Republican House representative Elise Stefanik, “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment?”
“It can be, depending on the context,” Gay said in response. She later said that if it becomes harassment or bullying, then it would be actionable conduct. “When it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying harassment intimidation – that is actionable conduct, and we do take action.”
Dr. Gay later released a statement through Harvard’s X, formly known as Twitter, account, stating, “There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students. 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.”
Dr. Gay later faced allegations of plagiarism. On Oct. 24, 2023. The New York Post asked Harvard about instances of Gay’s academic writing being similar to other works, leading to Dr. Gay requesting an independent review of her academic works for plagiarism.
The review found evidence of improper citations but none that violated Harvard’s standards for research misconduct. Based on these findings, Dr. Gay requested corrections, but Harvard did not punish her.
Further plagiarism allegations came from the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative journalism website. Harvard would later report more evidence of improper citations in Dr. Gay’s dissertation and announced that Dr. Gray had requested further corrections.
Prior to the resignation announcement, students were torn about whether Dr. Gay should resign. A majority of the editorial board for the Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, wrote that they wanted Dr. Gay to stay at the school. Another opinion was posted to the Crimson, where staff who disagreed wrote that Dr. Gay should leave the school.
Outside of the school, there was also controversy regarding the plagiarism accusations. The New Yorker posted an article written by Emma Green, called “Why some Academics are Hesitant to Call Claudine Gay a Plagiarist.” In the article, Green interviewed Dr. Stephen Voss, a professor Dr. Gay had allegedly plagiarized from. Dr. Voss said that the incidents cited as plagiarism were trivial.
In an article from CBS News, Harvard professors claimed that the faculty overwhelmingly supported Dr. Gay, with one professor saying that the resignation was influenced by mob rule.
Other news outlets believed that Dr. Gay should leave. The New York Times posted an article titled “Why Claudine Gay Should Go,” in which the opinion writer, John McWhorter, wrote that the decision was a matter of academic integrity and that Gay should resign. The CBS article also found Harvard students who supported her exit and believed it was best for the school.
Dr. Alan Garber is succeeding Dr. Gay as interim president, effective immediately. He has been Harvard’s chief academic officer since 2011 and is a professor of economics, public policy, health policy and management. Gay will remain a member of Harvard’s faculty.