Harvard will reap the damage caused by Claudine Gay

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Spectator World on January 3, 2024 and is crossposted here with permission.

In the end Barack Obama, Penny Pritzker, 700-some members of the faculty, the mighty voice of the Harvard Crimson and the entire nomenclature of the DEI movement could not save her from herself. Claudine Gay resigned as president of Harvard University after a month of relentless criticism. In principle her feckless performance on December 5 before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce should have been sufficient to persuade Harvard’s board (which aristocratically calls itself the Harvard Corporation) to cut her loose. But it took wave after wave of revelations about Gay’s plagiarism to break the hauteur of Ms. Pritzker and the ten other members of that Corporation. Pritzker, who served in the Obama administration and remains close to the former president, was said to be Gay’s staunchest supporter. And Obama, it has been said, strongly urged her to stay the course.

Those two sentences, of course, are hearsay. Many things are “said” that aren’t true, just as many true things never get said at all. If we stick strictly to the facts that are available now, all we have is Gay’s letter of resignation and the Harvard Corporation’s announcement of her temporary successor, Alan Garber, a physician and economist who has served in the Harvard administration and has an impeccable record. Though it is probably wise to add at this stage that a scrupulous review of the bona fides of anyone who has served in the Harvard administration might be warranted. The Harvard Corporation was so cavalier about Gay’s credentials that they have invited a pall of suspicion over every action they now take.

Gay’s letter of resignation is a curiosity that deserves close reading. The first, not entirely cynical reaction is: did she write it 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.” It commences with a standard formula, but one that accepts no blame and expresses no contrition. Further in the letter she rings the changes on the whole xylophone of “I quit” tropes, including the classic: “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.”

Why is it in the best interests of Harvard to unload a dishonest, serial plagiarist, whose record of scholarship would embarrass a cooked lobster? Why should Harvard look for her temporary successor to a man who had expressed his dissatisfaction with Harvard’s temporizing response to the outburst among its students of bloody-minded anti-Semitism? Why might Harvard have second thoughts about a president who had already driven off some of the institution’s most generous benefactors? Why might Harvard, which is used to having the pick of the litter for freshmen, be a little unnerved by a precipitous drop in applications? Why, oh why, Harvard Corporation, did it take this long to figure out the incalculable damage this pseudo-scholar and race-baiting activist was doing to Harvard’s reputation?

I would speculate that the eleven members of the Corporation (Gay herself was the twelfth) were ardently on board with Gay’s master plan to remake Harvard as place intent on incinerating its past on the road to becoming the purist “anti-racist” woke institution in the world. Her Khmer Rouge “year zero” approach to this transformation was incense to the Harvard’s radical clerisy but poison to the alumni. And a cause for lamentation for those of us who took pride in once great institution that had somehow unmoored itself.

Gay, we can be sure, will land on her feet at an appropriate foundation and will surely play a part in politics after a due period of reputational rehabilitation. Harvard may have to wait longer.

Photo by Office of Governor Healey on Flickr


  • Peter Wood

    Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project.”

3 thoughts on “Harvard will reap the damage caused by Claudine Gay

  1. Ummm, from what I’ve heard, Harvard didn’t fire her — multiple media outlets are reporting that she will continue to receive her $900,000/year salary as she “returns to the faculty” for some unspecified “scholarship.”

    Where I’m from, being “fired” means you aren’t there anymore, you aren’t being paid anymore, and you can keep your health insurance (under COBRA) only if you pay full price and then some for it. That’s not what we are seeing with “Dr.” Gay who will probably even get to keep a parking space, a not-insignificant perk in traffic-clogged Cambridge…

    And then there is the issue of her Harvard Doctorate and her allegedly plagiarized dissertation which won Harvard’s Toppan Prize for the best dissertation in political science. Yep, this isn’t just any dissertation but a prize-winning one for being the “best”, and what is Harvard going to do about it???

    When a biographer discovered evidence that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dissertation had been plagiarized, Boston University had a problem in that both King and all the members of his committee were then deceased — there was no one alive to defend the dissertation. That’s not the case here, Gay is very much alive as are (I presume) at least some members of her committee and if Harvard has a scintilla of academic integrity, it’s going to have to address this.

    Or are Harvard degrees now no more valuable than toilet paper?

    Harvard is unique amongst the 114 colleges and universities in Massachusetts in that it alone is explicitly protected by the state constitution, which includes mention of “…the President and Fellows of Harvard College,in their corporate capacity…” While I’m no defender of Harvard, could it be that they are required to call their board the Harvard Corporation?

    I should perhaps also mention that the Massachusetts Constitution predates the US Constitution by 9 years (1780 & 1789) and was written some 150 years before the US Supreme Court would define corporations to be “persons.” Furthermore, some terms are merely historical — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, & Kentucky are Commonwealths and not States (although I never understood why Kentucky and not Connecticut and Maine).

    That said, the current members of the Harvard Corporation are what would have been considered in an earlier age to be the “Captains of Industry.” Penny Pritzker’s father was one of the co-founders of the Hyatt Hotel chain and she reportedly has a net worth of $3.5 Billion. The NYT profiles the other members here: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/24/us/harvard-corporation-members.html

    Like I said, “Captains of Industry.”

    So what does it say when the Harvard Corporation hires a Claudine Gay?

    What does it say about THEM and not about just her???

    And I’ve pasted below the entire portion of the Massachusetts Constitution dealing with Harvard — notice that Harvard was once run by the magistrates, the state senators, and the ministers of the six largest churches in the state. That is a far cry from it being governed by the “Captains of Industry” — but even still, what does it say when said “Captains of Industry” hire a Claudine Gay?

    And what does it say about a university that awarded her what appears to be a totally fraudulent Doctorate? Bill Cosby’s UMass dissertation is questionable — I’ve read it — but he didn’t plagiarize anyone. While there should have been some questions about academic rigor, you can’t Google portions of it and find the academic work of others.

    It shouldn’t matter that it was a right-wing blogger who initially discovered Gay’s fraud and that a “new media” (internet only) newspaper broke the story. The real story is that no one else did — that no one else bothered to check… True journalism is grunt work, it involves something very similar to academic research — checking footnotes, checking sources, ensuring that what is purported to be true actually is.

    The Boston Globe (et al) has the same access to Google that anyone else does — they could have checked random sentences in Gay’s dissertation (and other published works) — the fact is that they didn’t bother… No one else bothered….

    What does that say about our society? And what does it say when the political right is condemned for doing the basic work that everyone else ought to have been doing….

    I may be a philistine but someone who is *still* being paid $900K hasn’t been fired and it says more about the people who didn’t fire her (and the larger academy) than it does her.

    Again, is a Harvard degree worth anything more than the paper it is printed on?

    The Constitution of the Commonwealth discussing Harvard,
    Part the Second, Chapter V, Sections I & II (full text)

    Section I. The University.

    Article I.
    Whereas our wise and pious ancestors, so early as the year one thousand six hundred and thirty-six, laid the foundation of Harvard College, in which university many persons of great eminence have, by the blessing of God, been initiated in those arts and sciences, which qualified them for public employments, both in church and state: and whereas the encouragement of arts and sciences, and all good literature, tends to the honor of God, the advantage of the Christian religion, and the great benefit of this and the other United States of America — it is declared, that the President and Fellows of Harvard College,in their corporate capacity, and their successors in that capacity, their officers and servants, shall have, hold, use, exercise and enjoy, all the powers, authorities, rights, liberties, privileges, immunities and franchises, which they now have or are entitled to have, hold, use, exercise and enjoy: and the same are hereby ratified and confirmed unto them, the said president and fellows of Harvard College, and to their successors, and to their officers and servants, respectively, forever.

    Article II.
    And whereas there have been at sundry times, by divers persons, gifts, grants, devises of houses, lands, tenements, goods, chattels, legacies and conveyances, heretofore made, either to Harvard College in Cambridge, in New England, or to the president and fellows of Harvard College, or to the said college, by some other description, under several charters successively: it is declared, that all the said gifts, grants, devises, legacies and conveyances, are hereby forever confirmed unto the president and fellows of Harvard College, and to their successors in the capacity aforesaid, according to the true intent and meaning of the donor or donors, grantor or grantors, devisor or devisors.

    Article III.
    [And whereas, by an act of the general court of the colony of Massachusetts Bay passed in the year one thousand six hundred and forty-two, the governor and deputy-governor, for the time being, and all the magistrates of that jurisdiction, were, with the president, and a number of the clergy in the said act described, constituted the overseers of Harvard College: and it being necessary, in this new constitution of government to ascertain who shall be deemed successors to the said governor, deputy-governor and magistrates; it is declared, that the governor, lieutenant governor, council and senate of this commonwealth, are and shall be deemed, their successors, who with the president of Harvard College, for the time being, together with the ministers of the congregational churches in the towns of Cambridge, Watertown, Charlestown, Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester, mentioned in the said act, shall be, and hereby are, vested with all the powers and authority belonging, or in any way appertaining to the overseers of Harvard College; provided, that] nothing herein shall be construed to prevent the legislature of this commonwealth from making such alterations in the government of the said university, as shall be conducive to its advantage and the interest of the republic of letters, in as full a manner as might have been done by the legislature of the late Province of the Massachusetts Bay.

    Chapter V, Section II. The Encouragement of Literature, etc.

    Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people. [See Amendments, Arts. XVIII, XLVI, XCVI and CIII.] “

  2. Actually the impact on Harvard goes much deeper than the institutional level. It goes down to the academic department levels.

    Gay has gone back to an academic department as a faculty member. Sure, she will be greeted with smiles and warm welcomes, but that will quickly dissipate. Her return to the faculty will cause discord, disharmony and deep-seated resentment.

    How would you like to be a full-professor knowing you have published more in the last 5 years than Gay has in a 25 year career—and she makes 3 or 4 times your salary? Every faculty member knows if they plagarized one-tenth of what Gay is (credibly) accused of doing they would be immediately suspended pending termination.

    It should be interesting to see what guidance Harvard gives to the academic departments on handling cases of plagiarism on thesis or dissertations. It will also be interesting to see if the publication requirements for award of tenure will plummet given that apparently one can become a tenured, full professor with a mere 11 publications.

    1. I think it goes even deeper than that — Harvard has some medical professors who are *really* good, Mass Eye & Ear’s Retina Surgery Department comes to immediate mind.

      So how would you like to be a MD/Professor with an international reputation, on the very cutting edge of medical advancements and have Claudine Gay as a colleague. Not just treated as an equal but her “research” considered equal to yours…

      It’s not racism as much as some people are doing important things, and then there’s “Dr.” Gay…The resentment’s already there, mostly from people who don’t have time for political foolishness (of any kind) and have already made the Faustian bargain of paying it lip service so they can be let alone to do their research and practice medicine.

      It will be interesting to see if they can keep DEI out of the Medical School…

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