Conservatives see Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation as a victory

Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation Tuesday followed a growing catalog of plagiarism accusations that appeared to steadily undermine her support among the university’s faculty, students and alumni. But for many of Dr. Gay’s critics, her departure was also an indirect victory in the growing ideological battle over American higher education.

Taking down Dr. Gay was a “a huge scalp” in the “fight for the sanity of civilization,” Josh Hammer, a conservative talk show host and writer, wrote on the social media platform X.

A crushing loss for DEIwokeness, antisemitism, and college elitism,” wrote conservative commentator Liz Wheeler.

“This is the beginning of the end for DEI in American institutions,” said conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who had helped make the plagiarism accusations public.

Until last month, conservative-inspired efforts to remake higher education had largely unfolded at public universities in right-wing states like Florida and Texas, where Republican lawmakers and state officials could exercise their legislative and executive powers to ban offices. of diversity, created on the right. -Academic centers lean and demand changes in the curriculum.

But Dr. Gay’s resignation on Tuesday secured his movement a major victory at the country’s most famous private university, which for weeks had resisted calls for a leadership change.

“I think there are major problems with higher education, and Harvard represents many of those problems,” said John D. Sailer, a senior fellow at the National Association of Scholars, a conservative nonprofit education organization. “To the extent that those problems have been exposed and skepticism toward the current best form of higher education increases, I think that puts a lot of wind in the sails of reform.”

Dr. Gay’s defenders appeared to agree, warning that her resignation would encourage conservative interference in universities and endanger academic freedom. (Although some experts have called Harvard itself a evil on free speech on campus during Dr. Gay’s tenure).

“This is a terrible moment,” said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, a professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard Kennedy School. “Republican leaders in Congress have declared war on the independence of colleges and universities, just as Governor DeSantis did in Florida. “They will only feel emboldened by Gay’s resignation.”

Barely a month had passed since Dr. Gay appeared, along with the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, at a Congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism, which discussed his legal defense of the right of a student to participate in anti-Jewish activities. The speech sparked national outrage. Some Jewish students, faculty and donors also felt that Dr. Gay had been too timid in her response to the October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas, as well as complaints about anti-Semitism on campus.

Two of the three presidents who spoke at the hearing are no longer in office. (The second is Elizabeth Magill, who resigned as president of the University of Pennsylvania just four days after testifying before Congress.)

On Tuesday, Dr. Gay’s antagonists vied for credit, sometimes praising the effectiveness of their own political theater. Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, a Harvard-educated Republican, noted in a declaration that his questioning of Dr. Gay at last month’s hearing had “made history as the most viewed congressional testimony in the history of the United States Congress.” He promised that Republican lawmakers would “continue to move forward to expose the rot in our most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions.”

Even before During the hearing, activists and conservative media had begun to re-examine Dr. Gay’s acclaimed but relatively sparse academic output, prompting further scrutiny by the mainstream media.

The public drumbeat began almost immediately after the hearing with a mail by Mr. Rufo, who had obtained an anonymous record of a work published by Dr. Gay in which he had allegedly plagiarized other academics, as well as a report in the Washington Free Beacon.

That medium published a tracing Monday night with additional examples. In total, plagiarism accusations covered nearly half of his published academic articles, according to the report.

But along the way, Dr. Gay, a scholar of black political participation and architect of Harvard’s efforts to Advance what she has called “racial justice” on campus—came to represent the right’s broader critique of elite academia, which it sees as intellectually narrow, lax standards and too focused on issues of identity.

Opponents attacked Dr. Gay, who attended Stanford University and Harvard before pursuing an administrative career, as unqualified for the position she had assumed just six months ago, an accusation her supporters rejected as racist. .

“It was a thinly veiled exercise in race and gender when they elected Claudine Gay,” said Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman and Republican presidential candidate. wrote the X of Tuesday. “Here’s a radical idea for the future: select leadership based on *merit*.”

Harvard announced his departure without any indication that he believed Dr. Gay had acted inappropriately; Dr. Gay’s resignation letter noted that she had made the decision to resign “in consultation with members of the corporation,” but she did not provide further details. Some Harvard faculty and alumni concluded that the school had simply bowed to public pressure from powerful activists and donors.

“I am saddened by the inability of a great university to defend itself against an alarmingly effective campaign of misinformation and intimidation,” Randall Kennedy, a Harvard jurist and one of the university’s most prominent black professors, wrote in a text message.

Like other major research universities, Harvard is supported by a huge volume of federal grants and other funds, a potential pressure point for Republican lawmakers in the future.

It is unclear whether the resignation of one or two college presidents will spur a broader restructuring of higher education. As the Covid pandemic recedes, Republican officials and education activists have found it harder to interest broad swaths of voters in campaigns to restrict access to sexually explicit books, or in often vague attacks on “wokeness.” ” and “equity.”

The two Republican presidential contenders who have campaigned most explicitly against higher education institutions—Yale-educated DeSantis and Harvard-educated Ramaswamy—have failed to gain lasting traction in the race.

Efforts to block schools from requiring job applicants to provide diversity statements or commitments to particular ideas about race and justice have attracted support beyond the political right.

But stricter measures to require (or prohibit) the teaching of particular ideas have gained less traction, leading right-wing activists to focus more on other areas, such as dismantling tenure protections and related administrative programs. with DEI.

“If Rufo’s goal is to recruit the public in his war on higher education, he hasn’t succeeded yet,” said Jeffrey Sachs, an academic at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, who studies the politics of academic discourse. “The public, including a majority of Republicans, does not want government decide what is taught in American university classrooms. They are also not enthusiastic about having specific legislation presented to them for review.”

Dana Goldstein and Annie Karni contributed reporting to this story.

Audio produced by Adriana Hurst.