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Harvard president resigns amid new plagiarism allegations

By MINGMEI LI in New York | | Updated: 2024-01-03 12:26
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In this December 14, 2022, image released by Harvard University, Claudine Gay poses for a photo. [Photo/Agencies]

Harvard University President Claudine Gay announced her resignation on Tuesday, following new accusations of plagiarism and previous criticism over her response to antisemitism on campus.

"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 wrote in a letter to the community. "But, after consultation with members of the [Harvard] Corporation, 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."

Gay's tenure as Harvard president, lasting only six months, was the shortest in the nearly 400-year history of the school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, since its founding in 1636. She was the first black president and the second woman to lead the university.

The resignation could potentially influence future donations to the school and affect students' intentions to apply there, according to The New York Times.

"These past several months have seen Harvard and higher education face a series of sustained and unprecedented challenges. In the face of escalating controversy and conflict, President Gay and the Fellows have sought to be guided by the best interests of the institution whose future progress and well-being we are together committed to upholding," Fellows of Harvard College, the university's governing board, wrote in the statement.

Alan M. Garber, an economist and physician who is Harvard's provost and chief academic officer, will serve as the university's interim president.

Gay will return to the Harvard faculty where she has served as a professor of government since 2006.

On Dec 12, the board had announced that Gay would continue as president. More than 700 faculty members expressed their support for Gay to remain as president.

The latest accusations against Gay were circulated via an anonymous complaint published on Monday by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative online journal. The 30-page complaint introduced further allegations of plagiarism, supplementing around 40 similar accusations that had previously been disseminated in the same manner.

In December, the Republican-led House Education and Workforce Committee announced that it would review Gay's 24-year record. Following that, Jonathan Swain, a spokesperson for Harvard University, told CNN on Friday that in response to plagiarism allegations, Gay had submitted revisions to two of her academic articles, originally published in 2001 and 2017.

Facing increasing pressure from Harvard student organizations and social media criticism urging her to step down, Gay's position appeared more precarious due to ongoing congressional investigations into the plagiarism allegations, along with accusations of antisemitism.

Gay, along with two other university presidents, the then-president of the University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, and the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sally Kornbluth, faced criticism for ambiguously answering whether "calls for the genocide of Jewish people" amounted to bullying and harassment on campus. Magill resigned four days after she testified. MIT said it still supports Kornbluth as president.

The three didn't clearly answer the question by US Representative Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican.

Gay responded, "The rules around bullying and harassment are quite specific, and if the context in which that language is used amounts to bullying and harassment, then we take — we take action against it."

Stefanik's questioning of Gay during her appearance before the congressional committee intensified public scrutiny.

Critics argued that the university presidents didn't adequately address incidents of antisemitism on their campuses following the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct 7, and 74 members of Congress wrote a letter demanding their immediate dismissal.

Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who heads a House committee investigating Harvard, said the inquiry would continue despite Gay's resignation.

"There has been a hostile takeover of postsecondary education by political activists, woke faculty, and partisan administrators," Foxx said in a statement, "The problems at Harvard are much larger than one leader, and the committee's oversight will continue."

"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," Stefanik posted on X, formerly Twitter.

In a statement on Tuesday, Stefanik, a Harvard alumna, said, "Claudine Gay's morally bankrupt answers to my questions made history as the most viewed congressional testimony in the history of the US Congress."

House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote on social media: "The resignation of Claudine Gay is overdue. Antisemitism has no place on campus — or anywhere in America."

"Her resignation is a symptom of Harvard being almost entirely beholden to external pressure," Sanaa Kahloon, a junior and pro-Palestinian activist told the Times. "These allegations of plagiarism have been weaponized by right-wing actors to suppress free speech in higher education, and to continue to suppress free speech with respect to Palestine."

"This is a terrible moment," Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race, and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School told the Times. "Republican congressional leaders have declared war on the independence of colleges and universities, just as Governor DeSantis has done in Florida. They will only be emboldened by Gay's resignation."

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