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Claudine Gay has resigned as president of Harvard University following a widely criticised appearance at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism that prompted scrutiny of plagiarism allegations against her, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Gay was Harvard’s first black president and took office only in July. Her tenure was the shortest in the university’s history.
Her resignation, first reported by the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, follows that in December of Elizabeth Magill, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania, who also testified at the hearing before a US House of Representatives committee.
In one exchange, the two presidents — along with Sally Kornbluth, their counterpart from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — struggled to respond when asked if calling for the genocide of Jews violated their campus codes of conduct. Pressed repeatedly by Elise Stefanik, the New York Republican, both said it depended on “the context.”
That response prompted fury from donors and alumni at the elite institutions, who had decried the universities’ failure to issue a clear condemnation of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, and address the rising antisemitism that it has unleashed.
The presidents and their defenders have argued that they were trying to balance their public statements against the need to protect free speech on campus. That explanation, though, was unsatisfying for many critics in light of the heightened sensitivity on US campuses in recent years to any speech that students said made them feel uncomfortable.
Gay issued an apology following her December 5 testimony. After an emergency meeting, the university’s board issued a statement saying she had its unanimous backing. But the scandal focused fresh attention on complaints about Gay’s scholarship, specifically numerous passages in her research papers in which the language was similar to that of other academics.
A Harvard committee at first cleared Gay, saying that she had failed to provide proper citations in limited instances. But further allegations surfaced, as did complaints that her transgressions would have resulted in harsh sanctions if committed by a student.
Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, was a professor of political science at Stanford University before joining Harvard. Her research focused on minorities’ voting behaviour. Her appointment last year as the university’s 30th president was considered a watershed moment amid a national reckoning on racial injustice and inequality that followed the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.
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