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.