The president of Harvard University resigned Tuesday after coming under ferocious attack for her handling of anti-Semitism during protests over Gaza, as well as allegations that she had plagiarized in her academic work.
Claudine Gay was criticized in recent months after reports surfaced alleging that she did not properly cite scholarly sources. The most recent accusations came Tuesday, published anonymously in a conservative online outlet.
Gay was also engulfed by scandal after she declined to say unequivocally whether calling for genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s code of conduct, during testimony to Congress alongside the heads of MIT and the University of Pennsylvania last month.
Gay, who made history as the first Black person to be president of the powerhouse university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said in her resignation letter that she’d been subjected to personal threats and “racial animus.”
Her downfall comes after the university’s governing Harvard Corporation had initially backed her after the public relations disaster of the congressional testimony.
But the body did criticize the university’s initial response to the Hamas October 7 attacks that Israel said killed 1,200 people inside Israel and saw around 240 people taken hostage.
Israel’s offensive has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 22,185 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
– ‘Dismal conduct’ –
More than 70 lawmakers, including two Democrats, called for her resignation, while a number of high-profile Harvard alumni and donors also called for her departure.
Still, more than 700 Harvard faculty members had signed a letter supporting Gay and her job had appeared to be safe.
The resignation, first reported by the student-run newspaper the Harvard Crimson, was confirmed shortly after by Gay herself.
“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,” Gay said in a statement.
In the United States, the anti-Semitism on campus controversy came amid a rise in attacks and violent rhetoric targeting Jews and Muslims, including at universities, since the Israel-Hamas war erupted.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, a close US ally, has claimed that a “whopping wave of anti-Semitism” has “seeped onto university campuses.”
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, has described it as a “cancer.”
Former student and multi-million-dollar donor Bill Ackman claimed in a letter to Harvard’s governing boards that “President Gay’s failures have led to billions of dollars of cancelled, paused, and withdrawn donations to the university.”
Gay, 53, was born in New York to Haitian immigrants and is a professor of political science who in July became the first Black president of 368-year-old Harvard.
“Leadership failure and denial of anti-Semitism have a price. Hope glorious Harvard University learns from this dismal conduct,” wrote new Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz in response to the reports of Gay’s imminent departure.
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