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Claudine Gay is out as president of Harvard University after roughly six months on the job.
Gay announced plans to resign on Tuesday following a firestorm of controversy in recent weeks related to numerous allegations of plagiarism and a widely criticized appearance at a House hearing on antisemitism in December, at which she and two other college presidents equivocated on questions about threats to Jewish students on campus.
The news of Gay’s resignation was first reported by The Harvard Crimson.
Gay made headlines in late 2022 when she was named the first Black woman to lead Harvard. Now her departure makes her the shortest-serving president in the university’s 388-year history.
A Sudden Resignation
Gay released a statement on Tuesday afternoon detailing her plans to step down.
“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,” Gay wrote.
She added that her resignation was “in the best interests of Harvard” to allow the campus to “navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.”
Gay earned her Ph.D. at Harvard in 1998, joined the faculty in 2008 and became dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2018 before she was tapped to be president.
Critics have accused Gay of plagiarizing part of her Ph.D. thesis and other published works. The president largely downplayed the accusations—while submitting some corrections over citation issues—but the allegations continued to pile up, including new claims that emerged Monday.
She suggested that criticism of her scholarship has been “fueled by racial animus,” an apparent nod to the conservative activists who first raised the plagiarism allegations. Chief among them: Chris Rufo, a New College of Florida trustee who has staunchly opposed diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Gay resigned despite a recent statement of support from the Harvard Corporation, one of the university’s two governing boards, which in December affirmed its confidence in the president.
The body reiterated its support for Gay on Tuesday afternoon, even as it accepted her resignation.
“These past several months have seen Harvard and higher education face a series of sustained and unprecedented challenges. In the face of escalating controversy and conflict, President Gay and the [Harvard Corporation] 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,” members said in a statement thanking Gay for her “deep and selfless” commitment to Harvard.
The statement also acknowledged Gay’s resilience in withstanding “repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls,” condemning such attacks “in the strongest possible terms.”
The Hearing Fallout
Gay was one of three university presidents to speak at December’s congressional hearing on antisemitism, spurred by campus acrimony over the Israel-Hamas war. Snippets of the testimony quickly went viral as the presidents sidestepped pointed questions about institutional policies and how they would respond to calls on campus for the genocide of Jewish people.
Their responses prompted widespread condemnation and even a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Gay and the two presidents who appeared alongside her—Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania and Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—all fit the same profile: women leading highly selective institutions who had been in their jobs for a year or less.
And so far, two of the three have resigned their presidential posts.
Magill was the first to go, stepping down in early December under pressure from donors and board members dating back to a Palestinian literature festival she permitted on campus in the fall. Her disastrous performance at the hearing only compounded their discontent, making Magill’s position increasingly untenable. Following her resignation, Board of Trustees chair Scott Bok also stepped down, raising concerns about the level of influence donors have on campus.
Both Magill and Gay are expected to join the faculty ranks at their respective institutions.
Harvard is now elevating Provost Alan Garber to the position of interim president.
News of Gay’s resignation sparked predictable reactions Tuesday afternoon. Conservatives who had called for her head celebrated, while supporters lamented her decision to step down.
After Magill resigned in December, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican who peppered the three presidents with questions at the hearing, wrote on X, “One down. Two to go.”
On Tuesday, Stefanik—a Harvard graduate—celebrated the news of Gay’s departure on social media.
“The resignation of Harvard’s antisemitic plagiarist president is long overdue. Claudine Gay’s morally bankrupt answers to my questions made history as the most viewed Congressional testimony in the history of the U.S. Congress,” Stefanik wrote on X.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has sought more information about how Harvard is handling the plagiarism allegations against Gay.
Education Committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx, a Republican representative from North Carolina, issued a statement Tuesday welcoming the news of Gay’s resignation and accusing higher education of falling captive to “political activists, woke faculty, and partisan administrators.”
Rufo, the activist who first leveled plagiarism allegations against Gay, took a victory lap on X.
“Today, we celebrate victory. Tomorrow, we get back to the fight. We must not stop until we have abolished DEI ideology from every institution in America,” Rufo wrote in a post on X, appearing to suggest that Gay was a diversity hire who was unqualified to serve as president of Harvard.
Others cast Gay’s resignation as an ominous win for right-wing forces and major donors.
“I have no particular love for Claudine Gay, but this is a *major* victory for reactionary donors and the far right’s campaign to dismantle American higher education,” David Austin Walsh, author of Taking America Back: The Conservative Movement and the Far Right, wrote on X.
Some sitting college presidents also weighed in. Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, had previously criticized Gay, Magill and Kornbluth over the hearing, arguing that all three failed to speak with moral clarity and fell into a congressional trap. In a post on X, McGuire suggested that Gay, like all college presidents, had a target on her back.
“Tragic, inevitable. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over many years as president of a far less visible university: someone is coming for you every day—you have to keep your record spotless because they will find the one loose thread and pull it until you are naked,” she wrote.