Claudine Gay

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Claudine Gay in 2023

Claudine Gay (born August 4, 1970) is an American political scientist and academic administrator who is the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government and of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. From July 1, 2023, until January 2, 2024, Gay was the 30th president of Harvard University. She became the first Black president of Harvard. In December 2023, Gay and two other university presidents faced pressure from the public and from a Congressional committee to resign, over responses to alleged antisemitism on their campuses. Gay also faced myriad accusations of plagiarism and as a result, she resigned from the presidency of Harvard in January 2024.


  • I love this place. Harvard is where I found my intellectual home. It has nurtured and inspired me since I first set foot in the Yard. I am deeply invested, not only in what Harvard is today, but also in what Harvard’s leadership means for the future.

"Claudine Gay has big plans" in The Harvard Gazette (28 September 2023)

Source: "Claudine Gay has big plans" in The Harvard Gazette (28 September 2023)
  • The biggest takeaway from my own research is just how important it is for people to feel seen and heard. Even when they disagree, it is critically important for their values, interests, and preferences to be recognized by leadership and integrated into the thinking of leaders. That’s probably the biggest thing. That’s one of the reasons my starting point in any decision-making process involves trying to understand the perspectives of the various stakeholders around an issue. I do that not with the expectation that I can satisfy everyone, but with an understanding that those perspectives need to be part of the consideration I bring to any issue.
  • There are three things that I always look for. I look for a commitment to excellence, because that’s what it means to be at Harvard. I look for commitment to collaboration, because I believe that no one has a monopoly on insight — even if it’s in your area and you are an expert. And I look for commitment to the mission, because that’s why we’re all here. I expect that from any member of a team that I lead and collaborate with. From there, we get to the unique requirements of a position and the unique contributions or assets that an individual might bring to the role.
  • I talked about the opportunity for Harvard to be more connected to the world by centering the most pressing challenges that the world faces as University priorities. For me, those include democracy and all the ways in which democracy is faltering around the globe, the climate crisis, and inequality, to name a few. Harvard has a lot to bring to the table for society’s urgent priorities. There are also “frontier” opportunities that Harvard is uniquely positioned to exploit.
  • Betraying my bias as a political scientist, I’m really excited about what we can do around democracy. We’re at a moment where it’s important for those of us who are champions of democracy to help the world understand how to make democracies work: How democratic governance and democratic practices can actually — if well done — solve crises and solve people’s problems.
  • The challenges, of course, are not unique to Harvard. At the top of the list, I’d put declining trust in higher education and fewer people understanding the value of higher education for both individuals and society. That’s an existential challenge for us as an institution. The silver lining is that there are many potential partners as we make the case for why what we do matters and how it contributes to making the world a better place and enables all of us to thrive.
  • The political polarization doesn’t help, but it is striking that the erosion in public trust is bipartisan. That should be telling us something, that there’s a broad-based questioning of the value of higher education. Yes, there are some elements that are being inflected by partisan politics, but this is pretty widespread.

Inauguration address (excerpts) (29 September 2023)


Source: [1]

  • Family, friends, colleagues, students and postdocs, alumni, distinguished guests. I stand before you today humbled by the prospect of leading Harvard, emboldened by the trust you have placed in me, and energized by your own commitment to this singular institution and to the common cause of higher education.
  • Both of my parents, each on their own, left everything they knew in Haiti to forge new lives in the United States. And because they understood that coming to America was not enough, they eagerly sought college education—to ensure the future they wanted for themselves and for their family.
  • Not four hundred yards from where I stand, some four centuries ago, four enslaved people—Titus, Venus, Bilhah, and Juba—lived and worked in Wadsworth House as the personal property of the president of Harvard University. My story is not their story. I am a daughter of Haitian immigrants to this country. But our stories—and the stories of the many trailblazers between us—are linked by this institution’s long history of exclusion and the long journey of resistance and resilience to overcome it.
  • And because of the collective courage of all those who walked that impossible distance, across centuries, and dared to create a different future, I stand before you on this stage—in this distinguished company and magnificent theatre, at this moment of challenge in our nation and in the world, with the weight and honor of being a “first”—able to say, “I am Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University.”
  • What we offer to the world will depend on Harvard’s courage—our courage—to ask two questions that propel our work—Why? and Why not? And it will depend on the courage to answer, with confidence, two others: Why here? and Why now?
  • Why? is a question that comes to us early in life. If you know a young child, you know this well: Why are we here? Why is the moon out during the day? Why can’t I eat ice cream for breakfast? Why is she talking so much? We may be tempted to stop asking why when we accept the default answers around us, until something sparks us to question those answers.
  • We serve that purpose best when we commit to open inquiry and freedom of expression as foundational values of our academic community. Our individual and collective capacity for discovery depends on our willingness to debate ideas; to expose and reconsider assumptions; to marshal facts and evidence; to talk and to listen with care and humility, and with the goal of deeper understanding and as seekers of truth.
  • Debate and the inclusion of diverse viewpoints and experiences, while essential for our work, are not always easy to live with. They can be a recipe for discomfort, fired in the heat of social media and partisan rancor. And discomfort can weaken our resolve and make us vulnerable to a rhetoric of control and containment that has no place in the academy. That is when we must summon the courage to be Harvard. To love truth enough to endure the challenge of truth-seeking and truth-telling. To love truth enough to ask Why?
  • By building new coalitions with citizens, industry, and government, we can accelerate the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge and effective ideas to serve the public good. On every matter of consequence, from disorders of the mind and body to disorders of the body politic, we have work to do.
  • By increasing access to our magnificent collections, verging now on half a billion items, we cast the myriad elements of civilization into the living world—in all their error, and wisdom, and beauty—to be reconsidered, remade, and remembered by the next generation.
  • A responsibility to help anchor our democracy—by cultivating norms and values essential to a free society and by ensuring the free flow of knowledge not only among students and faculty but to all citizens to enable them to make informed decisions.
  • Courage is hard, and hard to sustain. But we see it everywhere, steady in the face of war and injustice, sickness and loss, in stories of perseverance for a greater purpose.
  • A bold claim, perhaps. But not a boastful one. Courage abides in a kind of purposeful detachment, admitting our fears and false steps even as we advance—to paraphrase Sojourner Truth, not allowing our light to be determined by the darkness around us. And in courage, we find freedom—where we dare to imagine and make a different future together.

Testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce (December 5, 2023) (excerpts)


Source: [2]

  • My name is Claudine Gay and I am the president of Harvard University. It’s an honor to be here today, representing a community of more than 25,000 undergraduate and graduate students, more than 19,000 faculty and staff, and more than 400,000 alumni—including multiple Members of this Committee.
  • Our community still mourns those brutally murdered during the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on October 7. Words fail in the face of such depravity, the deadliest single day for the Jewish community since the horrors of the Holocaust.
  • I know many in our Harvard Jewish community are hurting, and experiencing grief, fear, and trauma. I have heard—from faculty, students, staff, and alumni—of incidents of intimidation and harassment. I have seen reckless and thoughtless rhetoric shared—in person and online, on campus and off. I have listened to leaders in our Jewish community who are scared and disillusioned. At the same time, I know members of Harvard’s Muslim and Arab communities are also hurting. During these past months, the world, our nation, and our campuses have also seen a rise of incidents of Islamophobia.
  • In response, I have sought to confront hate while preserving free expression. This is difficult work, and I know that I have not always gotten it right. The free exchange of ideas is the foundation upon which Harvard is built, and safety and wellbeing are the prerequisites for engagement in our community. Without both of these things, our teaching and research mission founder.
  • Antisemitism is a symptom of ignorance, and the cure for ignorance is knowledge. Harvard must model what it means to preserve free expression while combating prejudice and preserving the security of our community. We are undertaking that hard, long-term work with the attention and intensity it requires.

Resignation letter (2 January 2024) (excerpts)


Source: [3]

  • 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. 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. But, after consultation with members of the 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.
  • It is a singular honor to be a member of this university, which has been my home and my inspiration for most of my professional career. My deep sense of connection to Harvard and its people has made it all the more painful to witness the tensions and divisions that have riven our community in recent months, weakening the bonds of trust and reciprocity that should be our sources of strength and support in times of crisis.
  • I believe in the people of Harvard because I see in you the possibility and the promise of a better future. These last weeks have helped make clear the work we need to do to build that future — to combat bias and hate in all its forms, to create a learning environment in which we respect each other’s dignity and treat one another with compassion, and to affirm our enduring commitment to open inquiry and free expression in the pursuit of truth. I believe we have within us all that we need to heal from this period of tension and division and to emerge stronger.
  • When I became president, I considered myself particularly blessed by the opportunity to serve people from around the world who saw in my presidency a vision of Harvard that affirmed their sense of belonging — their sense that Harvard welcomes people of talent and promise, from every background imaginable, to learn from and grow with one another.
  • As we welcome a new year and a new semester, I hope we can all look forward to brighter days. Sad as I am to be sending this message, my hopes for Harvard remain undimmed. When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity — and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education. I trust we will all find ways, in this time of intense challenge and controversy, to recommit ourselves to the excellence, the openness, and the independence that are crucial to what our university stands for — and to our capacity to serve the world.

Op-ed in The New York Times (3 January 2024) (excerpts)


Source: Claudine Gay: What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me

  • On Tuesday, I made the wrenching but necessary decision to resign as Harvard’s president. For weeks, both I and the institution to which I’ve devoted my professional life have been under attack. My character and intelligence have been impugned. My commitment to fighting antisemitism has been questioned. My inbox has been flooded with invective, including death threats. I’ve been called the N-word more times than I care to count.
  • My hope is that by stepping down I will deny demagogues the opportunity to further weaponize my presidency in their campaign to undermine the ideals animating Harvard since its founding: excellence, openness, independence, truth.
  • As I depart, I must offer a few words of warning. The campaign against me was about more than one university and one leader. This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society. Campaigns of this kind often start with attacks on education and expertise, because these are the tools that best equip communities to see through propaganda.
  • Most recently, the attacks have focused on my scholarship. My critics found instances in my academic writings where some material duplicated other scholars’ language, without proper attribution. I believe all scholars deserve full and appropriate credit for their work. When I learned of these errors, I promptly requested corrections from the journals in which the flagged articles were published, consistent with how I have seen similar faculty cases handled at Harvard.
  • My research marshaled concrete evidence to show that when historically marginalized communities gain a meaningful voice in the halls of power, it signals an open door where before many saw only barriers. And that, in turn, strengthens our democracy.
  • Throughout this work, I asked questions that had not been asked, used then-cutting-edge quantitative research methods and established a new understanding of representation in American politics. This work was published in the nation’s top political science journals and spawned important research by other scholars.
  • It is not lost on me that I make an ideal canvas for projecting every anxiety about the generational and demographic changes unfolding on American campuses: a Black woman selected to lead a storied institution. Someone who views diversity as a source of institutional strength and dynamism. Someone who has advocated a modern curriculum that spans from the frontier of quantum science to the long-neglected history of Asian Americans. Someone who believes that a daughter of Haitian immigrants has something to offer to the nation’s oldest university.
  • Having now seen how quickly the truth can become a casualty amid controversy, I’d urge a broader caution: At tense moments, every one of us must be more skeptical than ever of the loudest and most extreme voices in our culture, however well-organized or well-connected they might be. Too often they are pursuing self-serving agendas that should be met with more questions and less credulity.
  • College campuses in our country must remain places where students can learn, share and grow together, not spaces where proxy battles and political grandstanding take root. Universities must remain independent venues where courage and reason unite to advance truth, no matter what forces set against them.

Quotes about Claudine Gay

  • The flurry of coverage resulted in not so much a clear articulation of alleged misconduct by Gay as a vague fog of ill will that carried stench of scandal. The media seemed assured that Gay had done something wrong: maybe it was about academic integrity, or maybe it was about the supposed antisemitism on campus; maybe it was the racist subtext, all but declared by Gay’s rightwing critics, that a Black woman who attained a position of superlative prestige and authority could necessarily not have done so by merit. The media followed all this as if any of it was real, as if any of it mattered, proving themselves willing to serve as outlets for a rightwing propaganda effort that is wildly cynical, demonstrably sadistic, and avowedly indifferent to the truth.
  • In a deeply polarized nation, Gay achieved a rare feat: bipartisan agreement, with both liberals and conservatives blasting her performance before Congress and her failure to adequately address campus tensions inflamed by the war between Israel and Hamas. When Gay stepped down last week, she cited “racial animus” as a factor in the attacks against her. She took pains to defend her scholarship, largely playing down the corrections she submitted after the plagiarism allegations.
  • First, as much as Gay has been depicted as a DEI crusader, I don’t recall her being one at the start of her career. I was pretty sensitive to such things and frequently annoyed by the progressivism and pioneering critical race theory that held sway at Harvard. But I don’t recall Gay saying anything that stuck in my craw. Even her much-discussed dissertation on black representation, as I remember, was less an ideological endeavor than an exhausted grad student’s attempt to use some econometric gee-whizzery to get the degree.
  • The true scandal of the Claudine Gay affair is not a Harvard president and her plagiarism. The true scandal is that so many journalists and academics were willing, are still willing, to redefine plagiarism to suit their politics. Gay’s boosters have consistently resorted to Orwellian doublespeak — “duplicative language” and academic “sloppiness” and “technical attribution issues”—in a desperate effort to insist that lifting entire paragraphs of another scholar’s work, nearly word for word, without quotation or citation, isn’t plagiarism. Or that if it is plagiarism, it’s merely a technicality. Or that we all do it.
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