The president of Harvard University resigned Tuesday after coming under ferocious attack over plagiarism accusations and her response to anti-Semitism on campus amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Claudine Gay was criticized in recent months after reports surfaced alleging that she did not properly cite scholarly sources. The most recent accusations came Tuesday, published anonymously in a conservative online outlet.
Gay was also engulfed by scandal after she declined to say unequivocally whether calling for genocide of Jews would violate Harvard’s code of conduct, during testimony to Congress alongside the heads of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania last month.
Gay, who made history as the first Black person to be president of the powerhouse university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in her resignation letter that she’d been subjected to personal threats and “racial animus.”
Her downfall comes after the university’s governing Harvard Corporation had initially backed her after the public relations disaster of the congressional testimony.
But the body did criticize the university’s initial response to the Hamas October 7 attacks that Israel said killed 1,140 people inside Israel and saw around 240 people taken hostage.
Israel’s offensive has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 22,185 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
– ‘Racist vitriol’ –
More than 70 lawmakers, including two Democrats, demanded her resignation, while a number of high-profile Harvard alumni and donors also called for her departure.
Still, more than 700 Harvard faculty members had signed a letter supporting Gay and her job had appeared to be safe.
The resignation, first reported by the student-run newspaper the Harvard Crimson, was confirmed shortly after by Gay herself.
“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,” Gay said in a statement.
Gay also wrote that she had faced threats to her safety and “racial animus” in the wake of the furore over her handling of claims of mounting anti-Semitism on campus.
The university’s governing Harvard Corporation said that Gay had “shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks.”
“While some of this has played out in the public domain, much of it has taken the form of repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls. We condemn such attacks.”
In the United States, the anti-Semitism on campus controversy came amid a rise in attacks and violent rhetoric targeting Jews and Muslims, including at universities, since the Israel-Hamas war erupted.
The president of another elite Ivy League institution, the University of Pennsylvania, had already been forced to resign.
The House Republican who challenged Gay out during her testimony with the question about whether free speech extended to calling for genocide of Jews celebrated the latest academic’s downfall.
“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,” said Representative Elise Stefanik.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, a close US ally, has claimed that a “whopping wave of anti-Semitism” has “seeped onto university campuses.”
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, has described it as a “cancer.”
Former student and multi-million-dollar donor Bill Ackman claimed in a letter to Harvard’s governing boards that “President Gay’s failures have led to billions of dollars of cancelled, paused, and withdrawn donations to the university.”
Gay, 53, was born in New York to Haitian immigrants and is a professor of political science who in July became the first Black president of 368-year-old Harvard.
“Leadership failure and denial of anti-Semitism have a price. Hope glorious Harvard University learns from this dismal conduct,” wrote new Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz in response to Gay’s departure.