The Crimson, a student-run paper at the university, first reported the news.
The resignation follows weeks of pressure after congressional testimony in which Gay appeared to prevaricate on whether calls for the genocide of Jewish students ― or simply using phrases like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” ― would violate Harvard’s rules.
In her statement to the university community, Gay, Harvard’s first Black president, wrote that “it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor ― two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am ― and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”
Gay’s tenure was the shortest of any Harvard president, having begun just last summer, The Crimson noted.
In that hearing, when pressed by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Gay, Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth all said that the bounds of acceptable and unacceptable speech regarding Israel, Palestine and the ongoing war in Gaza would depend on context. Their remarks led to outrage from Stefanik, as well as many alumni and donors to the schools, who consider some pro-Palestinian phrases to be tantamount to calls for violence.
In November, Gay notably condemned the phrase “From the river to the sea,” writing that it bore “specific historical meanings that to a great many people imply the eradication of Jews from Israel and engender both pain and existential fears within our Jewish community.” Notably, an antisemitism advisory group established by Gay did not include several scholars of antisemitism at Harvard whose views, Jewish Currents editor-at-large Peter Beinart observed, “complicate the conflation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism.”
The initial attacks against Gay after her congressional testimony were met with opposition from some Harvard faculty and students. More than 700 faculty members urged the Harvard Corporation, the school’s governing board, to resist calls for Gay’s ouster, signing a letter calling on the body to “defend the independence of the university and to resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, including calls for the removal of President Claudine Gay.”
But the accusations of plagiarism in Gay’s academic work proved difficult to ignore. Though they were first raised publicly by the conservative Free Beacon and the right-wing political activist Christopher Rufo, Harvard on Dec. 12 acknowledged “a few instances of inadequate citation” in Gay’s work that it nonetheless said did not qualify as research misconduct.
On Dec. 20, the university said Gay’s doctoral dissertation included “duplicative language without appropriate attribution,” and said Gay would update the dissertation.
In response to the allegations, Gay said on Dec. 11 that she stood by “the integrity of my scholarship,” which focuses on race and politics.
In a separate note Tuesday, the fellows of Harvard College, who make up the Harvard Corp., said that Gay had “acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them.” The letter also condemned “repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol” directed at the outgoing president. Alan M. Garber, the university’s provost and chief academic officer, will serve as interim president, the letter said.
In her statement Tuesday, Gay wrote that it had become clear, after consulting with the Harvard Corporation, that it was “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.”
She also indicated that she would not be leaving the university, and would return to the Harvard faculty. Gay previously served as dean of the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity ― and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education,” Gay concluded her note.
“I trust we will all find ways, in this time of intense challenge and controversy, to recommit ourselves to the excellence, the openness, and the independence that are crucial to what our university stands for ― and to our capacity to serve the world.”