America Gets a Harvard MalEducation
The Harvard Corporation lined up behind university president Claudine Gay on Tuesday after calls to fire her for her handling of antisemitism on campus and evidence of plagiarism in her academic work. The decision confirms the school’s pattern of putting identity politics above liberal values and its selective support for free speech on campus.
In a public letter to the university community, the Harvard fellows who chose President Gay and supervise the university write that they have “confidence” that she is the “right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”
One of the “serious societal issues” is managing the outbreak of antisemitism on campus since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of Israelis, an issue on which Ms. Gay has failed. In the days after the terrorist attack, Harvard’s administration was silent, even as Palestinian student groups released statements blaming Israel for the attack.
“The University’s initial statement should have been an immediate, direct and unequivocal condemnation,” the fellows write, but no consequences will be meted out. “President Gay has apologized for how she handled her congressional testimony” in which she said that calls for the genocide of Jews might violate the school’s speech code depending on the “context.”
Ms. Gay is fortunate she didn’t get the Larry Summers treatment. Mr. Summers resigned as Harvard president in 2006 following a no-confidence vote from the faculty after he made comments about the reasons women are under-represented in the sciences, and lamenting the fact. He eventually had to go because he had violated campus orthodoxy on gender politics.
The Harvard fellows say the school “champion( s) open discourse and academic freedom,” but that’s demonstrably false. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression this year ranks Harvard last out of 248 schools for free speech on campus. Ms. Gay has been the tip of the spear as Harvard has gone after professors for actions not compatible with the school’s progressive orthodoxy.
In 2019 Ms. Gay was among those arguing that law professor Ronald Sullivan should be ousted as dean at Winthrop House because he was working on the defense team for film producer and sex offender Harvey Weinstein. In 2020 she sided against data science professor David Kane when he invited “The Bell Curve” author Charles Murray to speak to students. Ms. Gay said she did not believe Mr. Murray’s work had academic merit and that the Harvard community could “do better to really live into our values and our commitment to inclusion and inclusive excellence,” she told the student newspaper The Crimson at the time. After a student outcry, Harvard did not renew Mr. Kane’s contract.
The Harvard overseers also gave Ms. Gay a pass on allegations that she had plagiarized sections of her doctoral dissertation and other academic work. They note that their review of her work “revealed a few instances of inadequate citation” but “found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.” We hesitate to judge plagiarism cases without inspecting the evidence in detail, and we haven’t done so here.
But it’s worth noting that Ms. Gay has received more forbearance than former Stanford president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne. The neuroscientist resigned as president in July after reports in the student newspaper accused him of research fraud. Mr. Tessier-Lavigne was exonerated of misconduct, but he was forced out anyway. Mr. Tessier-Lavigne had also been criticized for not denouncing scholars at Stanford’s conservative Hoover Institution. Ms. Gay has committed no such sins against ideological conformity.
Perhaps Harvard’s overseers decided they had to rally behind Ms. Gay lest they appear to bend to pressure from donors and politicians. But if the only result of this sorry episode is circling the academic wagons, America will have reason to conclude the critics are right about the declining value of a Harvard education.
Claudine Gay survives thanks to the school’s double standard.