Harvard President Claudine Gay announces resignation amid plagiarism accusations, congressional testimony

Gay faced calls to resign over her congressional hearing testimony.

January 2, 2024, 2:34 PM

Embattled Harvard University President Claudine Gay announced her resignation on Tuesday amid accusations of plagiarism and controversy over her testimony before Congress last month.

"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," she said in a lengthy letter to the school community. "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."

"But, after consultation with members of the Corporation, it has become clear that it is 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," the statement continued.

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

The news was first reported by The Harvard Crimson.

"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 wrote in her resignation letter.

Gay will stay on as a faculty member at Harvard, the Harvard Corporation said.

In a statement Tuesday, the Harvard Corporation wrote, "First and foremost, we thank President Gay for her deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence. ... 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 resignation comes amid allegations of plagiarism over Gay's academic writings and following backlash over her response at a congressional hearing to questions about antisemitism on U.S. college campuses, which sparked calls for her to step down as president.

Gay testified before Congress in early December 2023 alongside the University of Pennsylvania's then-President Liz Magill and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth about how they are handling antisemitism on their respective campuses in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

A tense exchange between Gay and New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik became a focal point for criticism.

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."

Harvard and University of Pennsylvania are among the schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for complaints of antisemitism and Islamophobic discrimination. Magill resigned from the University of Pennsylvania in early December.

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.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Gay elaborated on her stance in a statement following the backlash: "There are some who have confused a right to free expression with the idea that Harvard will condone calls for violence against Jewish students."

She continued, "Calls for violence or genocide against the Jewish community, or any religious or ethnic group are vile, they have no place at Harvard."

Stefanik applauded Gay's decision to resign, saying she will "always deliver results."

"The resignation of Harvard’s antisemitic plagiarist president is long overdue," Stefanik said in a statement. "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. Her answers were absolutely pathetic and devoid of the moral leadership and academic integrity required of the President of Harvard."

Gay has also faced accusations of plagiarism in her past academic work.

In a Dec. 12, 2023, statement, the Harvard Corporation 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 announced that Gay would be requesting four corrections in two articles to insert citations and quotation marks that were not present in the original text. However, the corporation initially affirmed its support for Gay amid the allegations in the statement.

"Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing," the statement read.

Gay was the first person of color and second woman to serve as president at Harvard University in its 386-year history. She became president in July 2023, serving the shortest tenure for a president in the school's history.

Harvard's provost and chief academic officer, Alan M. Garber, will take over as interim president until a full-time replacement is hired, the corporation said.

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