Claudine Gay resigns the presidency of Harvard University amid plagiarism allegations

By Matt Egan, Samantha Delouya and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 6:39 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024
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6:30 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

Analysis: Claudine Gay's resignation unlikely to end the showdown between conservatives and elite schools

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

The campus of Harvard University on Tuesday, January 2.
The campus of Harvard University on Tuesday, January 2. Steven Senne/AP

The resignation of Harvard President Claudine Gay after new plagiarism claims closes her chapter in a storm that has dragged elite schools into bitter pre-election politics.

Gay announced she was stepping down on Tuesday, ending the shortest tenure atop the renowned Ivy League university in history, after weeks of criticism reignited when The Washington Free Beacon published new accusations that she had lifted language she used in a paper 20 years ago from another professor.

Her departure comes nearly a month after Gay and other university presidents were asked in a congressional hearing whether calls for genocide against Jews in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza violated their schools’ codes of conduct.

She answered: “It can be, depending on the context.” That technical and overly nuanced reply to a no-brainer question was seen by many critics across the political spectrum as deeply problematic. She later apologized for her remarks.

But her problems, which were then exacerbated by plagiarism claims, were seized upon, especially by Republicans increasingly targeting top schools as examples of “elite” American institutions they see as in the throes of a leftist political transformation.

Given the political stakes at play, Gay’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the showdown between conservatives and elite American schools since it fits into the populist narrative on the right that prestigious American universities, with their push for diversity and inclusion on race and gender issues, have moved beyond the rest of the country.

In hindsight, the disastrous congressional hearing last year offered the university presidents’ critics a political opening. Then, despite Gay’s apology for her comments, the drip, drip of plagiarism allegations made her position untenable.

While there are clear political motivations at play in the right’s assault on the country’s most storied universities, the controversies are also unfolding at a fraught moment in higher education. Elite universities are being buffeted by claims that they are tainted by the political doctrines of the left and that colleges are becoming less a place to prepare new generations and more an incubator of radical ideology.

Read more of Collinson's analysis

6:05 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

House still wants Harvard to deliver trove of documents despite Claudine Gay’s resignation

From CNN's Matt Egan

Lawmakers are still demanding Harvard turn over a trove of documents related to plagiarism allegations despite Claudine Gay's resignation as the university’s president.

“We still expect Harvard to comply with our requests,” Audra McGeorge, a spokesperson for the House Education and Workforce Committee, told CNN in an email on Tuesday.

McGeorge confirmed Harvard is still on the hook to provide wide-ranging documents linked to the controversy swirling around Gay even though she is resigning. 

Harvard had been due to respond to the committee’s request for a “written response” by December 29. However, lawmakers granted Harvard additional time late Friday, citing the “holidays and office closures” at the end of the year.

Lawmakers have asked Harvard to produce a series of documents, including communications concerning the initial allegations of plagiarism and the independent review of Gay’s scholarship. The committee has also requested all instances of disciplinary action since January 2019 against Harvard faculty or students for research misconduct, such as inadequate citation.

There is no firm timetable for when those documents are expected to be turned over by Harvard, the committee spokesperson said.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, the Republican chair of the Education Committee, said Tuesday that Gay’s resignation is “welcome news” and signaled a continued interest in investigating the school.

“The problems at Harvard are much larger than one leader and the Committee’s oversight will continue,” Foxx said in a statement.

5:44 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

What happened in the months leading up to Claudine Gay's resignation

From CNN's Zoe Sottile and Eva Rothenberg

After months of scrutiny, Harvard President Claudine Gay announced her resignation Tuesday, making hers the shortest term in the university’s history.

Her resignation comes less than a month after she and other leaders of prestigious universities testified before Congress about antisemitism on campus in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. Critics attacked Gay and the other presidents for their statements on free speech and antisemitism, which snowballed into further scrutiny of Gay and allegations of plagiarism in her past.

Here’s what we know about the months preceding Gay’s resignation:

October 7: Harvard student group blames Israel for Hamas attack — A coalition of student groups at Harvard released a statement blaming Israel for the violence shortly after Hamas launched a devastating attack on Israel. The letter linked the attacks to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and called on Harvard to “take action to stop the ongoing annihilation of Palestinians.”

October 10: Gay condemns Hamas — Gay released a statement condemning the “terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas” and affirming that “no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership.”  Several major donors who support Israel cut ties with the university.

November 28: US Department of Education opens investigation — The Department of Education opened an investigation into Harvard “for discrimination involving shared ancestry,” an umbrella term that encompasses both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

December 5: Gay testifies before Congress — Gay and the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were called to testify before Congress about disciplinary actions taken in the face of antisemitism.

Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York asked Gay if Harvard would take disciplinary action against students or applicants who say “from the river to the sea” or “intifada,” the Arabic word for “uprising.”

Gay said that while she did see that speech as “abhorrent” and “at odds with the value of Harvard,” the university still embraces “a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful.”

December 9: Plagiarism allegations — As calls continued for Gay to resign after her testimony, Bill Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund CEO and vocal supporter of Israel, posted claims that Gay had plagiarized some of her academic work on social media.

December 15: Gay corrects two academic articles — Gay requested corrections to two scholarly articles published in 2001 and 2017 following allegations of plagiarism. Harvard commissioned an independent review of Gay’s writings following the accusations, which revealed inadequate citations in a few instances but “no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.”

December 21: More corrections are requested — A Harvard spokesperson said the university reviewed more of Gay’s academic work, and the president plans to update her 1997 PhD dissertation to correct additional instances of “inadequate citation.”

January 2: Gay resigns — Gay announced her resignation just six months after taking office, saying in her resignation letter that it is "frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus." Gay said in her letter she would return to a faculty position.

Read the full timeline of the months leading up to Claudine Gay's resignation.

6:05 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

"TWO DOWN": Stefanik celebrates second resignation after her viral grilling of university presidents

U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled "Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism" on Capitol Hill in Washington, on December 5.
U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik (R-NY) speaks during a House Education and The Workforce Committee hearing titled "Holding Campus Leaders Accountable and Confronting Antisemitism" on Capitol Hill in Washington, on December 5. Ken Cedeno/Reuters

GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who made headlines last month after she grilled the presidents of Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania on antisemitism, claimed credit for Claudine Gay's resignation in a post on social media Tuesday.

"I will always deliver results," the Harvard grad wrote on X. "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."

The House Republican Conference chairwoman was also quick to claim the political points last month when University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill announced she would step down last month, saying in post, “One down. Two to go.”

She marked the score again on Tuesday in a post following Gay’s resignation: “TWO DOWN.”

"@Harvard knows that this long overdue forced resignation of the antisemitic plagiarist president is just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history," Stefanik added in the post.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth is the third and final president from the hearing still in her position.

Stefanik's outspoken charge against campus antisemitism has attracted supporters from across the aisle as well as former President Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy also weighed in on social media, writing that Gay's resignation was "better late than never."

"It was a thinly veiled exercise in race & gender when they selected Claudine Gay," Ramaswamy, also a Harvard grad, wrote on X. "Here’s a radical idea for the future: select leadership based on *merit.* It’s a great approach, actually."

House Speaker Rep. Mike Johnson posted on X that Gay's resignation was "overdue."

"Antisemitism has no place on campus — or anywhere in America," he said.

This post has been updated with additional reactions.

5:05 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

Harvard professor: Universities free from outside political influence are "critical" to democracy

From CNN's Samantha Delouya

Allison Frank Johnson, a professor of history at Harvard, said that universities independent from political influence are "one of the most critical elements of a thriving democracy."

Speaking with CNN's Jake Tapper on Tuesday, Frank Johnson criticized the involvement of politicians in accusations of plagiarism against Harvard President Claudine Gay.

"I think asking a president to resign because congressional leaders don’t like their testimony – that’s not something I support. A president found to have committed serious acts of research misconduct or scholarly misconduct, including forms of plagiarism, might very well be asked to resign," she said. "Unfortunately, we didn’t see an actual investigation consistent with Harvard’s procedures for dealing with faculty research misconduct."

Frank Johnson drew parallels to the Red Scare of the 1950s when Senator Joseph McCarthy led investigations and hearings into academics, government officials and others accused of communism.

"For me, the danger here would be to lose our independent universities, to have a second kind of McCarthy-ite attack on universities and their scholarship based on political motives of any kind," she said.

4:02 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

Claudine Gay will step down as Harvard president after a tumultuous tenure. Here's what we know so far

From CNN staff

Harvard University President Claudine Gay sits before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce at a hearing on Dec 5, 2023 in Washington, DC, on the recent rise in antisemitism on college campuses.
Harvard University President Claudine Gay sits before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce at a hearing on Dec 5, 2023 in Washington, DC, on the recent rise in antisemitism on college campuses. Josh Morgan/USA TODAY/Imagn

Harvard President Claudine Gay announced Tuesday that she is stepping down from her post amid a firestorm of controversy at the university.

She is resigning just six months into her presidency — the shortest tenure in Harvard history. She was the first Black president and the second woman to lead the institution.

Here's what we know so far:

  • What led up to this: Gay was undone in part by her responses at a congressional hearing last month, as well as an ongoing plagiarism scandal. At the House hearing, Gay and other university presidents were criticized for failing to explicitly say calls for the genocide of Jewish people constituted bullying and harassment on campus. Harvard also recently announced Gay planned to submit corrections to her 1997 Ph.D. dissertation to correct instances of “inadequate citation.” Harvard did not use the word “plagiarism” in its review and said Gay’s past mistakes did not constitute a punishable offense under its research misconduct rules.
  • What Gay said: Announcing her resignation in an email addressed to the Harvard community, Gay said it was "not a decision I came to easily" and that stepping down "has been difficult beyond words." Gay wrote that she consulted with Harvard's governing boards after it became clear that her resignation would be "in the best interests of Harvard." She touched on the plagiarism accusations and the backlash to her testimony during a hearing on antisemitism, saying that it has been "frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus."
  • What Harvard's board said: The Harvard Corporation, the university's highest governing body, thanked Gay for her commitment and leadership. The corporation said Gay "believes passionately in Harvard’s mission of education and research" and that it is "grateful for the extraordinary contributions she has made." Gay, while no longer president, will still be part of the faculty. The corporation previously supported Gay in December following the consequential House committee hearing.
  • What will happen next: Alan M. Garber, who currently serves as provost and chief academic officer at Harvard, will step in as interim president, the Harvard Corporation said. The corporation said that the search for a new president would "begin in due course" but did not specify an exact timeline.
3:58 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

Who is Claudine Gay?

From CNN’s Ramishah Maruf and Holly Yan

Claudine Gay speaks to the crowd after being named Harvard University's next president on December 15, 2022. Harvard University named Gay in a historic move that would give the nation's oldest college its first Black leader.
Claudine Gay speaks to the crowd after being named Harvard University's next president on December 15, 2022. Harvard University named Gay in a historic move that would give the nation's oldest college its first Black leader. Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Claudine Gay, who announced her resignation as president of Harvard University on Tuesday, entered the national spotlight after her contentious congressional testimony about antisemitism on campus and subsequent allegations of plagiarism in her academic writings

But her rise to the top of one of America’s most esteemed universities started decades earlier and spanned both coasts. Here are highlights from Gay’s academic career: 

Daughter of immigrants: The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay is a native New Yorker who spent part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia due to her father’s job with the US Army Corps of Engineers, according to The Harvard Gazette

A spate of prestigious schools: Gay attended Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite boarding school in New Hampshire from which graduates often attend Ivy League schools. She attended Princeton University before transferring to Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in economics in 1992. Gay later attended Harvard University and received a doctorate in government in 1998.

Illustrious job titles: Gay was an assistant professor of political science at Stanford from 2000 to 2005. She returned to Harvard in 2006 as a professor of government and she also became a professor of African and African American studies in 2007. She later served as Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In that position, Gay launched a new PhD program in quantum science and engineering. 

A historic appointment: Gay became president of Harvard in July of 2023. She became the first person of color and the first Black woman to serve as president of America’s oldest institution of higher learning. “As a woman of color, as a daughter of immigrants, if my presence in this role affirms someone’s sense of belonging at Harvard, that is a great honor,” Gay said in a video announcing her appointment. “And for those who are beyond our gates, if this prompts them to look anew at Harvard, to consider new possibilities for themselves and their futures, then my appointment will have meaning for me that goes beyond words.”

3:49 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

Harvard professors weigh in on Gay's resignation

From CNN's Samantha Delouya

A pedestrian passes a gate to Harvard Yard on Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, MA, on December 12.
A pedestrian passes a gate to Harvard Yard on Massachusetts Ave. in Cambridge, MA, on December 12. Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Ryan Enos, a professor of government at Harvard, criticized "mob pressure" that he said resulted in Claudine Gay's resignation.

Appearing on CNN's News Central on Tuesday, Enos said that despite accusations that Gay plagiarized some of her work, she was not afforded a fair hearing by Harvard.

"Even if what she did was something that should have led to her termination, we never got to that point," Enos said. "We got to the point where people were yelling at her on social media and subjecting her to attacks that she didn't deserve."

Not all academics at Harvard agree, though. Frank Laukien, a visiting scholar at Harvard's department of chemistry and chemical biology, told CNN in an email that Gay's resignation was "overdue."

Laukien accused the Harvard Corporation, which is the university's governing body, of a "shoddy, rushed plagiarism investigation" and called for the resignation of the corporation's leader, Penny Pritzker, a billionaire and former US secretary of commerce under President Obama.

"Harvard needs a full, truly independent investigation of the Corporation and its Chair into the opaque, secretive decision-making at the Corporation and about potential non-public outside influences on the Corporation," Laukien said.

3:07 p.m. ET, January 2, 2024

Claudine Gay's tenure as president was the shortest in Harvard history

Claudine Gay served as the president of Harvard for just over six months — the shortest term in the university's history.

According to Harvard's own documented history of the position on its website, Gay took office as the 30th president on July 1, 2023.

All other presidents of the university, dating as far back as the school's first official president, Henry Dunster in 1640, have served for longer than six months.

“When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity — and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education,” Gay said in her statement.