Former Harvard president Claudine Gay speaks out in op-ed

Gay contends she "fell into a well-laid trap" at December congressional hearing.

January 3, 2024, 7:55 PM

Claudine Gay, Harvard's former president who resigned Tuesday amid accusations of plagiarism and backlash for her response at a congressional hearing in December to questions about antisemitism on U.S. college campuses, addressed her decision to step down from the post in an op-ed published Wednesday evening.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Gay wrote that she hoped her resignation would "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."

Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building, Dec. 5, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Gay came under scrutiny following last month's congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses, engaging in an intense exchange with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y.

Stefanik asked Gay the hypothetical question: "Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard's rules on bullying and harassment?"

Gay responded, "The rules around bullying and harassment are quite specific and if the context in which that language is used amounts to bullying and harassment, then we take -- we take action against it."

Addressing her testimony in the op-ed, Gay, Harvard's first Black female president, wrote that she "fell into a well-laid trap" at the hearing.

Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building, Dec. 5, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

"I neglected to clearly articulate that calls for the genocide of Jewish people are abhorrent and unacceptable and that I would use every tool at my disposal to protect students from that kind of hate," she wrote.

After the hearing, Gay, who was named Harvard's president in 2023, faced accusations of plagiarism in her past academic work.

In a Dec. 12, 2023, statement, the Harvard Corporation, one of the school's governing boards, announced that Gay requested an independent review of her published work in light of the accusations. The results revealed a few instances of "inadequate citation" but "no violation of Harvard's standards of research misconduct," the statement read.

The corporation stood by Gay but accepted her resignation Tuesday and has kept her on as a faculty member.

"She has devoted her career to an institution whose ideals and priorities she has worked tirelessly to advance, and we are grateful for the extraordinary contributions she has made -- and will continue to make -- as a leader, a teacher, a scholar, a mentor, and an inspiration to many," the corporation said in a statement.

Gay said in Wednesday’s op-ed that the process to correct the errors was "consistent with how I have seen similar faculty cases handled at Harvard."

"I have never misrepresented my research findings, nor have I ever claimed credit for the research of others. Moreover, the citation errors should not obscure a fundamental truth: I proudly stand by my work and its impact on the field," she wrote.

Liz Magill resigned as president of the University of Pennsylvania following the congressional testimony. Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth was also criticized for her responses at the hearing.

MIT has backed Kornbluth following the backlash after the hearing.

Incoming President of Harvard University and current Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay listens during Harvard University's 372nd Commencement Exercises in Cambridge, Mass., May 25, 2023.
Brian Snyder/Reuters, FILE

Gay wrote in the op-ed that the backlash against her is "a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society," citing backlash against public health agencies and news organizations.

"Having now seen how quickly the truth can become a casualty amid controversy, I’d urge a broader caution: At tense moments, every one of us must be more skeptical than ever of the loudest and most extreme voices in our culture, however well organized or well connected they might be. Too often they are pursuing self-serving agendas that should be met with more questions and less credulity," she wrote.

ABC News' Kiara Alfonseca and Meredith Deliso contributed to this report.