The President Has No Clothes

In 2001, Harvard President Larry Summers rebuked University Professor Cornel West for scholarship that did not meet Harvard’s standards.

According to the Globe, Summers “rebuked West for recording a rap CD, for leading a political committee for the Rev. Al Sharpton’s possible presidential campaign, and for writing books more likely to be reviewed in The New York Times than in academic journals. He also reportedly criticized West for allowing grade inflation in his introductory course on black studies.”

West, whose rap CD was not even terribly good, soon departed in high dudgeon for Princeton, while Summers in turn was ejected from Harvard in 2006 after a run-in with Harvard’s feminist activists.

We bring up this history because Harvard has just appointed Claudine Gay to be its newest president. Among the encomia directed to her is that of Shirley Tilghman, president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013: “She is a brilliant scholar of political science.” And this, obviously, is not the case. Gay’s CV, current as of October 2022, includes a grand total of eleven articles, published between 1998 and 2017, and one co-edited book published in 2013. The brilliant scholar of political science, who is now to lead Harvard University, has not published one academic book.

Would-be college presidents, who usually have spent considerable portions of their careers devoted to administration, must be graded on a curve. Gay could not do research while she was busy with administrative duties such as ensuring that Harvard adopted an “anti-racism agenda” and suspended economics professor Roland Fryer. But consider the CVs of Gay’s predecessors as Harvard presidents. Larry Summers himself published extraordinarily more than has Gay; indeed, his article publication in the year 1987 alone roughly equals that of Gay during her entire career. Drew Gilpin Faust had published five books before she became president of Harvard; Lawrence Bacow at least two. Claudine Gay’s publication record does not remotely meet the standards established by her immediate predecessors.

The elephant in the room is affirmative action. Claudine Gay’s entire career at Harvard is inexplicable, absent the race and sex quotas that govern modern academia. At each stage of her ascent at Harvard—Professor of Government (2006), Professor of African and African-American Studies (2008), Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government (2015), Dean of Social Science (2015), Edgerley Family Dean (2018)—it is impossible to imagine that she would have received that appointment if she were not a beneficiary of such quotas. Now she has risen to the most prestigious position in Harvard, and in American higher education. It is worth repeating: she has done so without even having published an academic book. Very few professors can even get tenure with so thin a publication record—absent the tailwind from quotas.

Harvard’s appointment of Gay to serve as its president speaks to every aspect of race and sex quotas at the modern university, including college admissions, hiring and promotion policies for faculty and administrators, and, perhaps most importantly, the chilling effect on free speech of the diversity, equity, and inclusion regime. So far as we can tell, no one at Harvard, or anywhere else in the modern academy, has dared to say the obvious: Claudine Gay is an affirmative-action Harvard president, whose record of academic publication renders her embarrassingly unqualified for the position. The emperor has no clothes, but no one at Harvard will say so. The Harvard community’s silence about Gay echoes, and will strengthen, the silence that accompanies every affirmative-action beneficiary at Harvard, whether a student, a professor, or an administrator.

In 2023, the Supreme Court may rule concerning Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College to prohibit race discrimination in university admissions. Harvard’s appointment of Gay should be seen in part as a preemptive statement of defiant opposition to an adverse Supreme Court ruling. Americans therefore should judge Gay’s appointment as part of the higher education establishment’s broader arguments for the constitutional status quo. These arguments generally echo those of Harvard President Derek Bok and Princeton President’s William G. Bowen’s The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions:

There is certainly much work for colleges and universities to do in finding more effective ways to improve the academic performance of minority students. But, overall, we conclude that academically selective colleges and universities have been highly successful in using race-sensitive admissions policies to advance educational goals important to them and societal goals important to everyone.

Americans considering this argument should compare Larry Summer’s CV and Claudine Gay’s CV. Claudine Gay exemplifies the unquestioned and unquestionable double standards and mediocrity that affirmative action inflicts on American higher education—and, indeed, on the republic as a whole.

Affirmative action means that the most prestigious position in American higher education will be occupied by a “brilliant scholar” who has never written a book. Diversity, equity, and inclusion means that there is no academic in America who dares point out that the emperor has no clothes. Affirmative action and diversity, equity, and inclusion mean that American higher education has no standards and no academic freedom.

Look at Claudine Gay’s CV. And listen to the sounds of silence from the ivory tower.


Image: Caroline Culler, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

David Randall

David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.

38 thoughts on “The President Has No Clothes

  1. After inflicting KBJ on the nation with her SCOTUS appt, it’s only fair that Harvard now scores an own goal with Claudine Gay. AA allows the incompetent to keep failing up. KBJ did both her undergrad (Government) and JD at Harvard. Gay graduated from Stanford with a B.A. in Economics, then received a PhD from Harvard in Political Science. The best thing that could happen to the country is if these elite institutions continue to eat their own (or each other’s) dog food and allow their own incompetent AA graduates to run them all to the ground.

    The sooner these elite universities lose their halo, the better off the country will be. The US will be far better off without these bastions of leftist elitism brainwashing generations of our best minds, then having them form an elite cartel in business, media, law and politics that collectively run the country to the ground through their greed and arrogance.

  2. Her qualifications are indeed mediocre but its a small price to pay to advance the end of the white male capitalist patriarchy. Academics need to be judged by their political soundness, not simply by their useless output of articles and books few ever read, certainly not among the masses. The social justice agenda is essentially a ruthless class struggle to defeat European cultural and economic imperialism and exploitation. To accomplish this goal, the minds at so-called elite institutions must be shaped and molded to become politically reliable. Hence, whilst sub-par in their credentials, comrades like Prof. Gay are actually exceptionally well qualified and deserving to be hired for their major goals and objectives. It is to be hoped Harvard will begin to purge itself of reactionary, recalcitrant elements who fail to share in this struggle for freedom.

  3. There is something about this article and most of the comments here that really bother me. In the midst of the holiday season the kind of meanness here is just so unfortunate. Indeed, it may be that Dr. Gay does not have a stellar publication record, though I can say that it does count where you publish, and she had been in the top journals in political science. To compare her to Larry Summer is unfair since economists always have longer publication records because of the nature of their research. Everybody writing here knows all too well that places like Harvard are increasingly complex entities, and publication records increasingly count less than administrative acumen in choosing leaders. It is the right after all who have moved toward selecting politicians to run these complex institutions. I wish for Dr. Gay much success in what is nearly an impossible job, made harder by the kinds of mean-spirited attacks here.

      1. Truth is in the eye of the beholder. Rather than getting a life, looks like lots of folks here are more interested in reminiscing about a previous life in this country, one which they didn’t necessarily earn themselves, but could claim on behalf of their particular demographic. A potential loss of unearned societal privilege is a sad sight to behold.

  4. This news was shocking… I didn’t follow these events at FAS for a few years. The difference from 2001 when Larry Summers started is staggering. I swear that when I started as a Junior Fellow in Fall 2001 and Larry Summers was the ex officio director of the Society, I was just proud. He was a Democrat but clearly a brilliant one, someone who could have been disliked but someone who understood things and who led Harvard in a direction defined by values and logic that made sense. His gradual deconstruction of the progressives during 2005 or so was shocking news for me, a Czech who accidentally was a great admirer of America before I went to work there, for reasons that had nothing to do with my politics. I felt miserable. But in the following decade, the things got incomparably worse than in 2005. My former colleagues don’t dare to say a negative epsilon against the acquisition of the world’s most famous university by a person who is worthless as a scholar and who was appointed purely through racism and sexism that is so popular and just OK with many of these people. She isn’t afraid of saying that she wants to deconstruct universities as an ivory tower. Holy cow. The only reason why things like a $40 billion endowments are justifiable is that the universities do something that average people (and even good companies) can’t, they are separated from the society by a gap, they sit on an ivory tower that is needed to shield the scholars’ Academic freedom which is needed for them to do things right, honestly, and at a high scholarly level. To destroy the ivory tower means to make Harvard a useless place and turn most of the people inside into parasites who just devour the tens of billions that were built by far superior generations. I despise my spineless ex-colleagues for their allowing this end of the world in the name of their personal comfort.

  5. I am a political scientist who is familiar with the work of Claudine Gay. When she was an assistant professor at Stanford, she had a decent record, with articles in some of the leading political science journals. She had two articles published in the (then) prestigious American Political Science Review, as well as two articles in the American Journal of Political Science, widely regarded as the second leading journal in the discipline. I read her work and used it in my own research. She was promoted to associate professor with tenure at Stanford based on her record.

    Ultimately Gay had six published articles when Harvard hired her as a full professor. OK, maybe her seventh article–in the Journal of Politics–was forthcoming when she was hired at Harvard, so let’s add that one to the record. Anyone familiar with the tenure and promotion standards at Harvard would know that a record of seven scholarly articles–even with four articles of those articles in prestigious journals–and no books would NEVER justify an appointment as a tenured full professor. We have all seen excellent scholars with stellar records of research–much better records than that of Professor Gay–be denied tenure at Harvard, and there is no way that someone with seven articles and no book would ever be considered for a full professor appointment. Essentially, Professor Gay published seven articles in the nine years since her Ph.D. in 1998. I have been an external reviewer on over 100 promotion and/or tenure files over the years, and this would be a solid (but not overwhelming) case for promotion to associate professor with tenure at most universities (but, ironically, probably not at Harvard) but would never be considered as a viable case for full professor at any major research university.

    It pains me to say it, but clearly this is a case of racial discrimination on the part of Harvard. They took a solid scholar who was doing very good work (albeit at a relatively slow pace) and gave her candidacy the same treatment as someone who was one of the leading, most productive and innovative scholars in the country. The only reason for propping up this case is race. In discriminating favorably in this case, Harvard has discrimated unfavorably in the cases of other scholars with superior scholarly records but who did not have the correct pigment.

    This is why the U.S. Supreme Court needs to step in next year and ban the use of race in university admissions and, eventually, in faculty hiring and promotion.

  6. “Look at Claudine Gay’s CV. And listen to the sounds of silence from the ivory tower.” The solution to such virtue signaling is to do some counter-signaling. Sen. Cotton’s proposed “Ivory Tower Tax Act” would help towards that end. Such a tax would not be met with silence from the elite private IHE’s. A nuclear response would be to pass legislation that would not allow endowments above a certain level to receive further charitable donations in which the donor would receive a tax-offset. The howls and screams that would elicit would be truly therapeutic…

    1. A distinction needs to be made between academic productivity and academic leadership. The points about her appointment/promotion vis a vis publication record are well taken. However, again you don’t necessarily have to be a top tier academician to lead a university or university system. Many academic superstars are not great leaders, not having the people skills and business savvy required to be successful. She might be an outstanding administrator/leader. Apart from the previous examples of Mitch Daniels (Purdue) and Ben Sasse (UF) there is also Janet Napolitano who presided over the entire multi-campus University of California system. Unfortunately, there may be an unconscious bias on the part of many who have posted comments here, and while I agree with the unseemly nature of the past faculty appointments and promotions, I think they are distinct from institutional leadership.

    1. Dear Eric,

      Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I just uploaded the CV to our own server, so it is now viewable. Harvard may have taken the CV down, since I check all links before publishing, but I can’t say for sure.

      David Acevedo, Managing Editor

  7. Banter from snarling internet lion jaws. What kind of action can be taken towards universities, institutions, and businesses that have for centuries been dominated by white males? Affirmative action in some cases is not affirmative enough. The progress is staggeringly slow and obvious at Harvard.

    1. “What kind of action can be taken towards universities, institutions, and businesses that have for centuries been dominated by white males?”

      One needs to remember that there are more White families living in poverty than there ARE Black families. And that those “dominating” universities, institutions, and businesses are such statistical outliers that are irrelevant. So you want someone who “looks like you” running them — how will that change YOUR life????

      Seriously — how would YOUR life change?

      Hint: I may be a White male, but my life wouldn’t change if they were all taken out in the woods tonight and shot, replaced with (equally competent) Black lesbians. The C-suite might be decorated a bit differently (likely not if they are competent) but I don’t set foot in the C-suite and likely never will. The Harvard Club could mandate Dashiki attire and it wouldn’t affect me. In fact, all formal “Black Tie” events could become “Dashiki ” events and it still wouldn’t affect me.

      So perhaps we should think about the “content of character” a bit more than skin color and plumbing?

      1. ‘Content of character’ you say? That’s exactly what we look at when we study race relations. How the past decisions made by white men to cement power, resources, and wealth to them exclusively through multiple rules and laws have aversely impacted society today. Yet, you can’t take it upon yourself to question the ‘content of character’ these people made when the executed these decisions which had such a highly detrimental magnitude and impact to people and cultures who are not white to this day. You speak like former slaves and native americans have the same ‘social contract’ as the average poor white male. The social contract has never been the same. When you say ‘content of character’ I’m certainly not seeing it from the same viewpoint as you.

    2. Your insular racism, victimhood, loser mentality is so old. If blacks would critically assess their own culture, maybe “white men” wouldn’t have run the world for the last 1000 years, and sub-Saharan Africa wouldn’t be the economic, STEM and cultural cesspool that it is. We all started with nothing after all

    3. Gay suspended Roland Fryer the youngest Black American to gain tenure at Harvard and a highly regarded economist. He made the mistake of reporting honestly on his research involving shootings of blacks by police. Blasphemy. His report was nuanced and did not entirely exonerate police in their interactions with blacks. Nonetheless, he was punished for deviating from the party line. In Fryer you do have a black American academic with stellar credentials yet it appears Harvard finds that anyone will do when the only standard that matters is how many intersectional boxes can be checked.

    4. For most of our history, the large majority of the country were white men. Other people who are not white men have successfully made their way into multiple elite fields. Why can’t blacks do likewise? Blacks from Africa and the Caribbean have generally done better then black Americans. Why?

      Your claim that standards and institutional structures are “white” is both illogical and quite frankly stupid. Want to test that theory? Ask yourself whether an entirely black society would have need for mathematics and science and whether those would be the same as for an entirely white society? Ask yourself whether the Constitution would work for an entirely black society. The sad fact is that one can either do the work or one can’t. Black Americans like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Glenn Loury, Roland Fryer, John McWhorter and Clarence Thomas all managed to do the work. The problem with the Internet “racism is everywhere crowd,” to say nothing of the Kendi’s, Dyson’s and Claudine Gays, is that that can’t and since they can’t accept that fact nor put in the work required to do it, they have to blame the system.

    5. Affirmative action is systemic discrimination. The easy solution to getting more “diversity’ is to have different standards for different groups. That is clearly what is being done. It is the bigotry–there’s nothing “soft about it–of low expectations that explains the different standards.

      Alternatively, schools can simply get rid of requirements for ACT/SAT scores, i.e. lower standards. That’s exactly what many have already done. When there is subsequently logical, predictable inequality in retention, Truthophobes will claim this inequality evidences a hostile environment. Admittedly, the less qualified can and do often seek out easier majors rather than fail in more difficult majors.

      Of course, colleges can claim they are using a “holistic approach.” Imagine the outcry if it were those now benefitting from being held to lower standards were instead the ones being excluded because they were subjectively scored lower on “likeability. and “helpfulness.”

      That “dream” is obviously going to have to wait.

    1. “Claudine Gay grew up with the rich and well-born in Haiti, then went to Exeter Academy, Harvard, Standford and back to Harvard. That is all she has known.”

      It has been said that the era of racism is over, that modern discrimination is on the basis of economic class and her bio is a good example of this.

      Initially it was believed that foreign students would return to their own countries with their American educations and help improve those countries. What was not initially anticipated is that they wouldn’t go back, and then that they would claim victimhood for racism that their own ancestors never experienced.

      And what is a working-class White male supposed to think after interacting with her? That she is reflective of the average Black woman in America? A woman who grew up wealthy and then has been in the lap of opulence ever since she set foot in America?

      What people don’t realize is that this breeds racism.

      What people don’t realize is that the hard-working but not-so-prosperous White guy is going to look at her and see the unfairness and ask why opportunity should continue to be taken from him to give to people like her.

      That’s the sort of thing which, over time, leads to revolutions….

  8. Several problems with this biased article. However, a key one is that there are many universities around the world in slicing within the United States, where the leader (President, Chancellor, Rector) is not even an academician. Ex- Governor Mitch Daniels is the president of Purdue. Senator Ben Sasse is the incoming president of the University of Florida, and so on. Leading a university does not necessitate a prolific publishing record, otherwise there would be a plethora of Nobel Prize winners leading universities.

    1. I am a tenured faculty member at Purdue University. I hope Doctor Claudine Gay can do a better job of funding liberal arts at Harvard than Mister Mitch Daniels has done here. He has intentionally done his best to dismantle the College of Liberal Arts. By dint of doing the work to earn a Ph.D., Gay is already more qualifed than the former far-right governor who politically set up his own appointment to the helm of Purdue. Many, as I, are delighted that he has retired and welcome a new era with Dr. Mung Chaing.

      1. “I hope Doctor Claudine Gay can do a better job of funding liberal arts at Harvard than Mister Mitch Daniels has done here. He has intentionally done his best to dismantle the College of Liberal Arts.”

        Maybe the College of Liberal Arts needed dismantling.

        What a lot of people fail to understand is that the Land Grant University belongs to the STATE and that the STATE gets to decide what needs to be (and hence will be) taught. Maybe the people of the State of Indiana are “right wing”, maybe they don’t want to subsidize the teaching of leftist manifestos. In a democracy, that is their right.

        And if you don’t like that, you are free to go start your own university. Or go teach in an Olive grove, as Plato did…

    2. “universities around the world in slicing within the United States, where the leader (President, Chancellor, Rector) is not even an academician. Ex- Governor Mitch Daniels is the president of Purdue. Senator Ben Sasse is the incoming president of the University of Florida, and so on. “

      And most IHE are not led by a theologian — although I doubt you’d find a school of divinity that isn’t. You are citing land grant universities, which are institutions inherently different from liberal arts colleges, which is what Harvard University likes to think it still is. (Actually, it is more of a venture capitol fund that also awards degrees, but I digress.)

      In your list of land grant universities led by retired politicians, do not forget that former Congressman Marty Meehan (D-MA) is the President of the UMass System. (Or do you only count Republicans?)

      Large state-funded universities are inherently political entities, and it makes sense having a politician running them. Much as large hospitals are no longer run by a MD.

      1. So public universities get a pass but private universities somehow must have a higher standard? Huh? I remember when conservatives used to promote the freedom of privates.

      2. ” I remember when conservatives used to promote the freedom of privates.”

        Harvard is free to commit institutional suicide, and (IMHO) has been working on that for a couple of decades now. Harvard has the right to hire a porn star as President and (subject to IRS regs) turn the President’s office into an adult film studio.

        It’s just that I also have the free speech rights to criticize that.

        And remember that the only truly private colleges are Hillsdale and Grove City College. Everyone else receives Federal funding.

  9. Look at Claudine Gay’s CV. And listen to the sounds of silence from the ivory tower.”

    What amazes me is the silence from the serious female and Black scholars — who do exist. Thomas Sowell and the late Walter Williams come to immediate mind but there are others who are remarkably silent about all of this and we need to ask why.

    I have a pretty good idea — they are happy doing what they are doing and don’t need the grief (!) they would get should they say anything about these injustices. I can’t begin to imagine the outcry that would occur if anyone were to speak out about Claudine Gay, and how much more vicious it would be were a Black female to do so.

    Look at the grief that Ward Connerly got in the ’90s — and that was a far more civil era, one without ANTIFA thugs and the rest. Look at what happened to Professor Bret Weinstein at Evergreen College….

    But there is a larger issue here — and it will come to the forefront this spring when the US Supreme Court inevitably rules against Harvard in the Students for Fair Admissions case. (Remember that Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had to recuse herself from this case because she was sitting on the Harvard Board of Overseers at the time.)

    Like the Dobbs (Abortion) decision, this decision will likely be released in June after a lot of the students have gone home for the summer. but I still anticipate the reaction to be every bit as visceral (and violent) as the reaction to the Kent State Shooting of May 4, 1970 — which led to hundreds of colleges closing early that spring.

    And I also anticipate that the public reaction to this will be similar to the (often forgotten) public reaction to Kent State — except that this time the revulsion will include a review of the Federal largess going to institutions such as Harvard.

    At that point, President Gay’s CV will become an issue…

    1. “Thomas Sowell and the late Walter Williams come to immediate mind but there are others who are remarkably silent”

      Considering the first is over 90 and the second is dead, I think we can give them both a pass for not commenting on quite everything we care about.

  10. I heard at the time that West had a significant other who worked for the NYT and that Princeton was a whole lot closer than Cambridge.

  11. “Now she has risen to the most prestigious position in Harvard, and in American higher education.”

    Harvard is certainly prestigious, and important, but is it really that important? I think Harvard has been slipping for a long time. Take the sciences, Harvard is still in the top five, but certainly not clearly at the top. Other schools have come up, Harvard has been complacent for a long time. I just don’t think it matters so much any more.

    All that said, it certainly does appear that this appointment is woefully unmerited. Why did they do this? If they had to go with a black or black female — itself a sign of gross decay if true — couldn’t they have done better than this?

    1. No one has mentioned this, but it seems to me that this decision cannot be separated from the advancement of Ruth Simmons to head Smith and then Brown. Here resume is even thinner than Gay’s…. yet she is hailed as some kind of great intellectual and great figure in academic administration. It is frankly laughable. She also never wrote a serious book, just some little thing about the Haitian education system that no one takes seriously or ever bothers to cite….. And in addition there is the advancement of Ketanji Brown Jackson, not exactly the greatest choice for the SCOTUS either. Clearly Harvard is doing this based on a mixture of ideology and a desire to pose as progressive and blunt student criticisms by mimicking Brown and the Biden administration and the like. And the actual power wielded at the university will likely devolve to other hands as well…. for an example of this, see under Loretta Lynch and the DOJ, a sad episode as anyone who followed it well knows. Sorry, but this is just a reality and refusing to recognize it is as bad as kowtowing to HU over this choice, IMHO.

      1. Hmm… is Ketanji Jackson less qualified than Amy Coney Barrett? No comparison in terms of academic pedigree and experience as a judge, yet the Barrett is not mentioned. I wonder why?

  12. I know Gay is not in a STEM field, but it worthwhile nevertheless to make a comparison. In my department her publication record would be considered the minimum acceptable for promotion from assistant professor to associate professor. Under no circustances would this be considered the work of a “brilliant scholar” and certainly not that of an expert.

    Affirmative action programs are designed to hire/promote/admit the mediocre. Harvard’s choice for their newest president is just another example.

    1. We hire teachers, not scholars — at one point, research, teaching, and public service each had its own revenue stream.

      Post 1965, when teaching was vastly expanded, the revenue stream has been for teachers. Yet we hire on the basis of “publish or perish” — and produce a lot of stuff that absolutely no one else ever reads….

      Evaluating Gay on the success of her past students would be interesting.

  13. Thank you for providing much needed coverage of this topic.

    In addition to gross incompetence and an abysmal scholarly record, Gay is also infamous for various abuses as an administrator, including the witch-hunt against Roland Fryer, which is mentioned in your article, and the cover-up of data fabrication by Ryan Enos (a Latino political scientist who peddles the same bogus “racial threat” theories as Gay and cites her in his work).

    See “The Curious Case of Claudine Gay” for more details:

    https://karlstack.substack.com/p/the-curious-case-of-claudine-gay

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