Updated Jan 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Harvard president resigns after antisemitism hearing and plagiarism probe

A photo of Claudine Gay taken from the side. She is wearing a gray blazer and dark glasses and speaking.

Harvard President Claudine Gay during a House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 5. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday weeks after she appeared before Congress in a disastrous hearing on antisemitism.

Why it matters: Gay, a political scientist and Harvard's first Black president, came under scrutiny for her testimony, as well as allegations of plagiarism in her published work. She will have the shortest tenure in school history.

  • "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," Gay wrote in a letter to the campus community.
  • She said she will return to Harvard's faculty.
  • "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."
  • The Harvard Crimson was first to report the news. The New York Times on Tuesday also reported on expanded allegations of plagiarism against Gay.

What's next: Harvard's provost and chief academic officer, Alan M. Garber, will serve as interim president, according to a letter from the Harvard Corporation, one of its governing boards.

  • "In the face of escalating controversy and conflict, President Gay and the Fellows have sought to be guided by the best interests of the institution whose future progress and well-being we are together committed to uphold," the letter said.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who spearheaded the congressional hearing, said she aims to continue holding prestigious higher education institutions accountable.

  • "This is just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history," she said.

Catch up quick: During a Dec. 5 congressional hearing, Gay appeared alongside other elite university presidents testifying about their schools' responses to antisemitism on campus in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. Their testimonies were criticized by the White House and lawmakers from both parties.

  • Since the hearing, MIT's president Sally Kornbluth has remained in her role, but Liz Magill resigned as president of the University of Pennsylvania following calls from the board of the Wharton business school and the loss of a $100 million donation.

The Corporation earlier in December backed Gay and said she would stay in her leadership role despite calls for her resignation.

  • The Republican-led House Education and Workforce Committee began its investigation into Harvard following the congressional testimony.

Separately, the board on Dec. 9 cleared Gay of "research misconduct" in her published works.

  • Regarding her 1997 dissertation about Black electoral success, Gay will submit updates, which will add quotations and citations, a university spokesperson said in a statement provided to Axios on Dec. 20.
  • The same congressional committee that conducted the antisemitism hearing is also investigating Gay's plagiarism charges, per The Times.

The university had become aware in October that the New York Post was pursuing a story on allegations of plagiarism against Gay, the spokesperson said. She asked for an independent review of her work days later.

  • In an investigation, the Corporation said Gay did not violate the university's research misconduct standards in her published works. The House committee, however, expanded its probe into the university on Dec. 20, saying allegations against Gay were "credible."

The big picture: Universities have grappled with how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war, which has been accompanied by a spike in antisemitic and anti-Muslim threats on campuses across the country.

  • Gay faced calls for her resignation from House members, donors and prominent alumni.
  • Harvard, where philanthropy makes up 45% of revenue, lost major wealthy donors since the congressional hearing, per CNN.

Go deeper: House expands Harvard probe to include plagiarism claims against president

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details throughout.

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