Jan 3, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Claudine Gay says she faced death threats, racial slurs before resigning

Claudine Gay testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Outgoing Harvard president Claudine Gay described the "campaign" that led to her resignation as a symptom of a larger "war" in the U.S. on expertise and trusted institutions.

Driving the news: Writing in the New York Times a day after stepping down as Harvard's first Black president, Gay said she had received death threats and been "called the N-word more times than I care to count." She also argued that the issues at stake are bigger than "one university and one leader."

Why it matters: Gay first came under pressure for her performance in a disastrous congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses.

  • That pressure intensified when allegations of plagiarism in her published work emerged in conservative media.
  • But while some conservatives took a victory lap over her resignation, some students, academics, and progressives argued it set a troubling precedent.
  • Gay argues in the Times that it was "merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society," from higher education to the news media to public health agencies.

What she's saying: Gay writes that as a Black woman who has championed diversity, she makes "an ideal canvas for projecting every anxiety about the generational and demographic changes unfolding on American campuses."

  • "My hope is that by stepping down I will deny demagogues the opportunity to further weaponize my presidency in their campaign to undermine the ideals animating Harvard since its founding."
  • Gay said she had fallen into a "well-laid trap" when questioned over whether calls for violence against Jews would violate Harvard's code of conduct, but regrets not affirming that she would "use every tool at my disposal to protect students from that kind of hate."
  • She also defended her academic work and its impact on her field of political science. She said some of her critics "recycled tired racial stereotypes."

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