Claudine Gay resigns as president of Harvard

Claudine Gay has decided to resign as president of Harvard after just six months on the job. The Harvard Crimson broke the news.

Harvard President Claudine Gay will resign Tuesday afternoon, bringing an end to the shortest presidency in the University’s history, according to a person with knowledge of the decision…

Gay’s resignation — just six months and two days into the presidency — comes amid growing allegations of plagiarism and lasting doubts over her ability to respond to antisemitism on campus after her disastrous congressional testimony Dec. 5.

Gay’s resignation letter is here:

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

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. Amidst all of this, it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.

There are a couple more paragraphs before she wraps it up with the hope that her brief tenure will be remembered as the moment when Harvard got woke:

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 have no doubt that is how she’ll be remembered while other, less comfortable things are forgotten. There were six new charges of plagiarism added to a list of more than 40 previous instances. The new allegations involved another one of Gay’s academic papers that hadn’t been previously touched by the scandal. They involve passages which were clearly taken from another academic at the University of Wisconsin named David Canon. Canon told the Free Beacon he was “not at all concerned” about the newly uncovered plagiarism.

The Harvard Crimson also published an editorial over the weekend conceding that President Gay had plagiarized other people’s work but suggesting she should stay on anyway because the plagiarism wasn’t “intentional.”

A sober-minded assessment of the plagiarism charges indicates that Gay’s behavior constitutes plagiarism, but since the errors do not appear intentional, they do not warrant her resignation.

Because we still have faith in our president as a scholar, because we regard her plagiarism as limited and unintentional, and because we recognize that a stopgap interim president would bring chaos instead of needed stability, we do not believe President Gay should resign.

At least, not now.

There were two members of the Crimson editorial board who dissented. They argued it was time for Gay to go, not just over the plagiarism mess, but because she hadn’t really handled anything well during her short tenure:

Without question, Gay botched her public response to the crisis. She sent out-of-touch email after out-of-touch email to the student body, which totalled five in the end. She bungled her testimony before Congress, to international criticism. Now, on top of these blunders, it has surfaced that Gay plagiarized portions of multiple academic papers. The situation seems to worsen with every passing week…

One doesn’t need to look far to see that Harvard isn’t running smoothly — these scandals disrupt teaching and research, Harvard’s core missions…

It is clear to us that the continuation of Gay’s tenure as president only hurts the University. For Harvard’s sake, Gay must go.

That vote of no-confidence probably didn’t help but in my view it was another op-ed in the Crimson that made the most damning case. This one was written anonymously by an undergraduate member of the Harvard College Honor Council, the body that hands out punishment for those found guilty of plagiarism.

In my time on the Council, I heard dozens of cases. When students — my classmates, peers, and friends — appear before the council, they are distraught. For most, it is the worst day of their college careers. For some, it is the worst day of their lives. They often cry…

In my experience, when students omit quotation marks and citations, as President Gay did, the sanction is usually one term of probation — a permanent mark on a student’s record. A student on probation is no longer considered in good standing, disqualifying them from opportunities like fellowships and study-abroad programs. Good standing is also required to receive a degree…

In my experience, when a student is found responsible for multiple separate Honor Code violations, they are generally required to withdraw — i.e., suspended — from the College for two semesters. Since the Council was established in 2015, roughly 16 percent of students who have appeared before us have been required to withdraw.

The author concludes by saying “There is one standard for me and my peers and another, much lower standard for our University’s president.”

So it’s not clear exactly what the last straw was in this situation. Was it the fact that the tally of plagiarism examples kept increasing every few days? Was it the decision of donors to back away that added pressure? Did she jump or was she pushed? The truth may eventually come out in the form of a behind the scenes report but what should have been the last straw was that article above pointing out the obvious double standard. Gay absolutely did not deserve the breaks she was getting, not when undergraduates are routinely being removed from the school for the same infractions.

I have no doubt that what comes next in the media space is a bunch of opinion pieces accusing the right of cancel culture. Let’s just get the jump on that now and say that’s not what happened here. When UPenn’s president Liz Magill resigned on Dec. 9, I argued “it’s not great that a defense of free speech on campus, even a poorly given one, was drowned out by a host of people angry at hate speech on campus.” I thought Magill came off as a dope in her testimony and I also called her a liar on the grounds that she didn’t really believe what she was saying about free speech (at least not when applied to anyone to the right of Mao). But what happened to President Gay is something different.

She’s not resigning because she gave testimony the right didn’t like. She’s resigning because her academic record is an embarrassment. Just as it’s not cancel culture for the Harvard College Honor Council to require any student caught plagiarizing repeatedly to withdraw, it’s not cancel culture for the school or its students or even outsiders to demand the same of Claudine Gay. Asking Harvard to uphold its own academic standards and enforce them fairly is not cancel culture. But again, I suspect many will try to frame it that way in the coming days.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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