Harvard president Claudine Gay resigns amid plagiarism claims, backlash from antisemitism testimony

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Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned on Tuesday amid plagiarism accusations and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say unequivocally that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

Gay is the second Ivy League president to resign in the past month following the congressional testimony. Gay, Harvard’s first Black president, announced her departure just months into her tenure in a letter to the Harvard community.

Following the congressional hearing, Gay’s academic career came under intense scrutiny by conservative activists who unearthed several instances of alleged plagiarism in her 1997 doctoral dissertation. Harvard’s governing board initially rallied behind Gay, saying a review of her scholarly work turned up “a few instances of inadequate citation” but no evidence of research misconduct.

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Days later, the Harvard Corporation revealed that it found two additional examples of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution”. The board said Gay would update her dissertation and request corrections.

The Harvard Corporation said the resignation came “with great sadness” and thanked Gay for her “deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence”.

Alan M Garber, provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president until Harvard finds a replacement, the board said in a statement. Garber, an economist and physician, has served as provost for 12 years.

Gay’s resignation was celebrated by the conservatives who put her alleged plagiarism in the national spotlight. Christopher Rufo, an activist who has helped rally the GOP against critical race theory and other cultural issues, said he is “glad she is gone”.

“Rather than take responsibility for minimising antisemitism, committing serial plagiarism, intimidating the free press, and damaging the institution, she calls her critics racist,” Rufo said on X, formerly Twitter. Rufo added that “this is the poison” of diversity, equity and inclusion ideology.

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centres on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions, which function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Gay, in her letter, said it has been “distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigour—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am—and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fuelled by racial animus”.

But Gay, who is returning to the school’s faculty, added “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”.

Gay and the presidents of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania came under fire last month for their lawyerly answers to a line of questioning from New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate the colleges’ code of conduct.

The three presidents had been called before the Republican-led House Committee on Education and the Workforce to answer accusations that universities were failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll.

Gay said it depended on the context, adding that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies”. The answer faced swift backlash from Republican and some Democratic lawmakers as well as the White House. The hearing was parodied in the opening skit on “Saturday Night Live”.

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Gay later apologised, telling “The Crimson” student newspaper that she got caught up in a heated exchange at the House committee hearing and failed to properly denounce threats of violence against Jewish students.

“What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community—threats to our Jewish students—have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged,” Gay said.

The episode marred Gay’s tenure at Harvard—she became president in July—and sowed discord at the Ivy League campus. Rabbi David Wolpe later resigned from a new committee on antisemitism created by Gay, saying in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that “events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference I had hoped”.

The House committee announced days after the hearing that it would investigate the policies and disciplinary procedures at Harvard, MIT and Penn. Separate federal civil rights investigations were previously opened at Harvard, Penn and several other universities in response to complaints submitted to the US Education Department.

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