Harvard University is sticking with its president, despite her refusal to unequivocally denounce calls for the genocidal murder of Jews.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Harvard Corporation gave President Claudine Gay its unqualified vote of confidence.
“We today reaffirm our support for President Gay’s continued leadership of Harvard University,” said the corporation, the university’s governing body. “Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”
Gay, who became Harvard’s first Black president in July, initially came under fire when she failed to immediately fully denounce Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack, and again last week when she equivocated during congressional testimony over whether calls at Harvard for the murder of Jews were violations of university policy.
Harvard faculty rallied to her defense, however, with Black faculty members calling criticism of Gay “specious and politically motivated.”
Alumni, horrified by Gay’s nonchalant approach to a terror attack that killed 1,200 and included rapes, beheadings and hostage-taking, mobilized to drive her out. Some alumni pledged to withdraw financial support.
“President Gay’s failures have led to billions of dollars [in donations to the university] canceled, paused and withdrawn,” hedge fund manager Bill Ackman wrote in a letter to the school’s governing board on Sunday. “I am personally aware of more than a billion dollars of terminated donations from a small group of Harvard’s most generous Jewish and non-Jewish alumni.”
He said Gay had done “more damage to Harvard’s reputation than anyone in the university’s history.”
The Executive Committee of Harvard University Alumni’s Association had the president’s back, however, calling her “thoughtful” and “kind,” in a letter on Monday obtained by the Harvard Crimson.
She “is the right leader to guide the university during this challenging time … resolutely dedicated to the growth and wellbeing of our very diverse community,” the letter said.
The Harvard Corporation conceded on Tuesday that “the University’s initial statement [on the Oct. 7 terrorist attack] should have been an immediate, direct, and unequivocal condemnation. Calls for genocide are despicable and contrary to fundamental human values.
“President Gay has apologized for how she handled her congressional testimony and has committed to redoubling the University’s fight against antisemitism.”
Similarly, the alumni association said, “We recognize that there was disappointment in her testimony this past week. President Gay has pointed this out and apologized for any pain her testimony caused — a powerful demonstration of her integrity, determination and courage.”
During last week’s House hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik asked three university presidents — MIT’s Sally Kornbluth, the University of Pennsylvania’s Liz Magill, and Gay — “does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?”
“It can be, depending on the context,” Gay responded, adding under further questioning by Stefanik, “Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation, that is actionable conduct, and we do take action.”
When Stefanik concluded — “So, the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?” — Gay responded, “Again, it depends on the context.”
After being ridiculed on social media and coming under fire from donors, she told the Harvard Crimson, “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret.”
She explained to the Crimson that she had been “caught up” in the exchange with Stefanik, but that she “should have had the presence of mind [to] return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard and will never go unchallenged.”
Penn’s Magill resigned on Monday.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center criticized Harvard’s decision to stick with Gay.
“President Gay survives to continue as university president, but will Jewish students on campus survive her tenure?” the center asked. “Will Harvard finally act against harassment of Jewish students?”
Stefanik reacted on X, writing, “There have been absolutely no updates to @Harvard’s code of conduct to condemn the calls for genocide of Jews and protect Jewish students on campus. The only update to Harvard’s code of conduct is to allow plagiarists as president.”
The plagiarist reference was to a university investigation of accusations that Gay plagiarized numerous portions of her 1997 Ph.D. thesis in violation of Harvard’s academic integrity policies.
The Harvard Corporation said in its statement on Tuesday that it had conducted an independent investigation after becaming aware of the allegations in late October.
“On Dec. 9, the Fellows reviewed the results, which revealed a few instances of inadequate citation,” the corporation said.
“While the analysis found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct, President Gay is proactively requesting four corrections in two articles to insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications.”
The Harvard Corporation said: “In this tumultuous and difficult time, we unanimously stand in support of President Gay.
“At Harvard, we champion open discourse and academic freedom, and we are united in our strong belief that calls for violence against our students and disruptions of the classroom experience will not be tolerated. Harvard’s mission is advancing knowledge, research, and discovery that will help address deep societal issues and promote constructive discourse, and we are confident that President Gay will lead Harvard forward toward accomplishing this vital work.”
The corporation letter was signed by the Fellows of Harvard College: Penny Pritzker, Senior Fellow; Timothy R. Barakett, Treasurer; Kenneth I. Chenault; Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuéllar; Paul J. Finnegan Biddy Martin; Karen Gordon Mills; Diana L. Nelson; Tracy P. Palandian; Shirley M. Tilghman, and Theodore V. Wells Jr.