Claudine Gay, the former president of Harvard University, couldn’t leave bad enough alone.
After the shortest presidential tenure in Harvard’s storied history — having been forced to resign last week following months of scrutiny and criticism for her handling of antisemitism on campus and following a storm of allegations of plagiarism in her academic work — Gay sought to defend herself and shift blame for her failures in an op-ed in The New York Times titled: “What Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me.”
According to Gay, she resigned to “deny demagogues the opportunity to further weaponize my presidency in their campaign to undermine the ideals animating Harvard since its founding: excellence, openness, independence, truth.” Her departing essay explained none of that. Instead, she sought to minimize the profound impact of her failures on her beloved university.
In the 13 paragraphs of her op-ed, Gay devoted a single, four-sentence paragraph to her abysmal failure to respond properly to repeated incidents of antisemitic activity at Harvard, her failure to condemn the Hamas atrocities on Oct. 7 and her mind-numbing pronouncement at a congressional hearing last month that whether calling for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment would “depend on the context” of the statement.
She then devoted six paragraphs to the defense of her academic record and credentials, one paragraph to the touting of her courage and conviction, and closed with a kumbaya prayer for courage, reason and truth on college campuses. Nowhere did Gay explain why “what happened at Harvard is bigger than me.” She couldn’t. And that’s because what happened at Harvard is all about Claudine Gay.
There are three issues: First, whether Gay had the qualifications to be selected as president, or whether the demands of diversity, equity and inclusion overcame the need for excellence, leadership and merit in the selection process. Much has been written about that. For our purposes, we will assume that Gay appeared qualified for the position.
Second, is Gay’s moral leadership and her judgment. On this one, Gay failed. She appeared tone-deaf to the needs of her Jewish student population and disturbingly unresponsive to requests for intervention and assistance in response to campus antisemitism. That was aggravated by her ignorance or lack of caring about the depravity of the Hamas massacre on Oct. 7, to the point where she didn’t even react publicly to the 34 Harvard student organizations that came out on Oct. 8 (before Israel had taken any action in Gaza) in support of Hamas and holding Israel “solely responsible” for the Hamas attack.
And then, when she was given the public platform of a congressional hearing to address the issue of antisemitism on campus, she literally made a fool of herself. According to Gay, “I fell into a well-laid trap.” More accurately, her efforts to dissemble and obfuscate failed, and she got caught.
Third, were the allegations of plagiarism in Gay’s academic work over several years, including in her graduate thesis. According to reports, Gay’s copying was more than what she calls “duplicating other scholars’ language without proper attribution.” It was cheating. By an academic. Whose job it was to promote academic excellence and truth.
Harvard will survive. We hope Harvard’s Jewish community will survive, as well. And we hope that Harvard’s next president will focus on making both things happen.