Harvard University President Dr. Claudine Gay’s six-month tenure ended with her resignation Tuesday as the first black and the second woman president to ever lead the 388-years-old academic institution.
After facing fierce criticism from alumni, congressional lawmakers, academics, the White House, and the public for how she responded to antisemitism on campus following Hamas’ Oct.7 attack inside Israel, followed by Gay’s equivocating congressional testimony on Dec. 5, along side two universities’ counterparts, and subsequent allegations of plagiarism in her published academic work, Gay finds herself now returning to a faculty 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," Gay said in a letter to the Harvard community. "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."
“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,” she added after she and Harvard’s leadership consulted.
Alan M. Garber, the school's provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president until a permanent successor is found.
The backlash took off to a new level following her congressional testimony in early December.
Claudine Gay of Harvard University, Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology testified before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Their testimony was so disheartening to some that Penn President Liz Magill resigned days after the hearing.
Gay said during her congressional testimony that her job required a delicate balancing act between protecting Jewish students and First Amendment rights.
"I have sought to confront hate while preserving free expression," Gay told the House Committee. "I know that I have not always gotten it right."
The fire was lit in a contentious exchange with Harvard alumnus Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) that ignited over social media.
Stefanik asked Gay whether students who call for the genocide of Jews are in violation of the campus code of conduct.
"We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation,” replied Gay.
The answer was met with swift backlash from the White House.
“It’s unbelievable that this needs to be said: calls for genocide are monstrous and antithetical to everything we represent as a country. Any statements that advocate for the systematic murder of Jews are dangerous and revolting — and we should all stand firmly against them, on the side of human dignity and the most basic values that unite us as Americans,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
NBC's "Saturday Night Live" even parodied the hearing at the top of SNL’s Dec. 9 episode.
In replying to the criticism at that time, Gay later told her university’s paper, “I got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures."
The criticism of Gay continued and morphed further into plagiarism allegations in her political science body of work.
Harvard Corporation ordered an investigation to stem that tide and their findings "revealed a few instances of inadequate citation,” but determined there was no breach of Harvard’s standards for research.
Gay defended her academic work.
"I stand by the integrity of my scholarship," she said in a statement on Dec. 12. "Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards."
Harvard released a statement to reaffirm “our support for President Gay’s continued leadership of Harvard University,” on the same day.
But that did not end the waves of criticism.
Billionaire investor Bill Ackman and conservative activist Christopher Rufo flooded social media. The Washington Free Beacon published an unsigned complaint Monday that referred to new allegations of plagiarism.
Ackman and Rufo highlighted instances of alleged plagiarism on American political behavior and the role of racial identity in politics.
The author of the Washington Free Beacon’s unsigned complaint claimed to have discovered ”nearly 50 allegations, including over half a dozen examples never seen before."
Stefanik cheered the news of Gay's departure on X: "TWO DOWN."
"@Harvard knows that this long overdue forced resignation of the antisemitic plagiarist president is just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history,” reads the Congresswoman’s tweet," was added.
MIT President Sally Kornbluth gave what critics described as a similarly legalistic answer to Stefanik's question, but she has so far not faced major fallout.
In an MIT statement on Dec. 7, MIT's Chair of the Corporation Mark Gorenberg wrote that Kornbluth "has our full and unreserved support."
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