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Harvard University is likely to keep its interim president, Alan Garber, in place for years, despite calls to replace Claudine Gay with another Black woman, some top experts believe.

Gay resigned the presidency after a record-short tenure of six months, relenting to a bombardment of complaints from conservative forces over pro-Palestinian campus protests and flaws in her scholarly writings.

Harvard then named Garber, its provost, to replace her, pending a permanent appointment, without making clear how long the search process might take.

That has touched off debates that include whether Harvard should name another Black woman to demonstrate its commitment to equity or keep a more traditional president such as Garber—a professor of economics, public policy and health-care policy, who publicly demonstrates his Jewish faith and support for Israel and maintains well-established and even outsize ties to the university’s corporate partners.

Even some academic leaders supportive of Gay admitted they were wary of immediately subjecting another Black woman to the treatment she experienced, including a barrage of racist emails and phone calls throughout her brief presidency.

“I think it’s important to diversify leadership across higher education and all types of institutions,” said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and a past president of the historically female Mount Holyoke College. “But to subject another Black woman to that kind of hatred, vitriol and targeted attack would be unethical at this moment in time.

“Yes, there are many Black female leaders who could lead Harvard brilliantly. But that might not be in the best interest of the leader, or Harvard, at this moment in time.”

Alvin Tillery, a professor of political science at Northwestern University, said the idea of Harvard naming another Black woman—put forth by some discouraged allies of Gay—doesn’t have much practical grounding.

Tillery said he believed there was little chance of the university choosing a president outside a narrow band of internal candidates who had been prepared for that possibility, with Garber the most obvious choice to remain in the job.

“I would go to Vegas and put a good chunk of my retirement on the idea that Alan will be the president of Harvard University for the next five or 10 years,” he said.

Garber has begun attracting some of his own critics, most notably for his unusually high level of outside earnings from corporate relationships. Reports have described him as nearly doubling his $946,000 university salary through service on the boards of pharmaceutical companies.

That, however, should be a positive mark in the eyes of Harvard’s governing board and the donors they cultivate, Tillery said. And even if Harvard did have another Black female leader sufficiently high in its administrative pathways, he added, that might not make sense to pursue in the current political climate.

“I can’t think of any Black woman that would want to take the job, given what just happened,” Tillery said.

Harvard should also understand that simply appointing another Black female leader is not necessarily the solution to what ails it, said Eden Getahun, an undergraduate who is a member of the Association of Black Harvard Women.

“That alone will not undo the damage that has been done,” Getahun said. Gay was “subject to racist and vitriolic attacks on her character and her academic work” and, regardless of whom it named as its next leader, the university “should not shy away from defending” the value of efforts to improve its diversity, she said.

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