Former Harvard University President Claudine Gay spoke out about her decision to step down from her role at the institution amid controversy over a December congressional hearing and accusations of plagiarism in her past academic work.
In an op-ed published in the New York Times on Wednesday, Gay said she hopes that her decision to step down will “deny demagogues the opportunity to further weaponize” her presidency in their campaign to undermine Harvard’s ideals. Gay says that for weeks, her professional and private life have been under attack; she has been called the N-word numerous times, and she has faced death threats.
Attention turned to Gay following a congressional hearing where lawmakers questioned Gay and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on their response to antisemitism on campus since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
Penn President Liz Magill resigned shortly after as attention turned to her and Gay’s testimony, which was part of a five-hour House Committee on Education and Workforce hearing. Public criticism was sparked by the university leaders’ responses to a pointed question by Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., about whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would breach their universities’ codes of conduct.
“In my initial response to the atrocities of Oct. 7, I should have stated more forcefully what all people of good conscience know: Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks to eradicate the Jewish state,” Gay wrote in her op-ed. “And at a congressional hearing last month, I fell into a well-laid trap. I neglected to clearly articulate that calls for the genocide of Jewish people are abhorrent and unacceptable and that I would use every tool at my disposal to protect students from that kind of hate.”
More recently, attacks have turned to her scholarship, Gay wrote, where she learned some of her writing did not properly attribute sources. When brought to her attention, Gay said she quickly requested corrections compatible with how other cases have been dealt with at the institution.
However, individuals working to unseat Gay have painted an inaccurate narrative of incompetence, she argues, forcing her to defend her decades-old work.
“Despite the obsessive scrutiny of my peer-reviewed writings, few have commented on the substance of my scholarship, which focuses on the significance of minority office holding in American politics,” Gay wrote.