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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Harvard University chief Claudine Gay faces calls to quit over antisemitism remarks

As of Sunday evening, more than 500 members of the Harvard faculty had signed a petition urging 'in the strongest possible terms' to 'resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom'

Jeremy W. Peters, Dana Goldstein, Rob Copeland New York Published 12.12.23, 11:29 AM
Harvard University

Harvard University File image

The president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay, faced escalating pressure on Sunday to resign as prominent alumni, donors and politicians called for her ouster. But a group of faculty members rallied to support her, arguing that she was being railroaded for a moment of poorly worded remarks about antisemitism.

The body that could ultimately decide Gay’s fate, the Harvard Corporation, is scheduled to meet later.

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As critics of Gay doubled down, an effort was underway to save her job. As of Sunday evening, more than 500 members of the Harvard faculty had signed a petition urging “in the strongest possible terms” to “resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom.” Harvard has about 2,300 faculty members.

Gay has apologised for her remarks before a congressional committee Tuesday, which she acknowledged were inadequate.

“I am sorry,” Gay said in an interview that the campus newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, published on Friday. “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” she said. Gay is the first Black woman to lead Harvard and took on the role less than six months ago.

As her position grew increasingly tenuous, the fallout from last week’s hearing deepened. Late on Saturday, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, resigned. And calls from donors for the president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sally Kornbluth, to step aside also grew louder.

The eruption over Gay’s remarks came after she seemed to equivocate before Congress when she was asked whether university policies forbade calling for the genocide of Jewish people.

“One down. Two to go,” said Representative Elise Stefanik, who led some of the most pointed questioning during the hearing, when all three presidents strained to answer how their universities would handle incidents of antisemitism. Stefanik, a graduate of Harvard, said on the social media site X that the resignation of Magill was “the bare minimum of what is required”.

Representatives for some of the most prominent Harvard Corporation members declined to comment. Gay declined to comment through a Harvard spokesperson.

In the past several days, congressional Republicans have opened an investigation into the three institutions and major donors have threatened to rescind multimillion-dollar gifts — a rapid turn of events that has stunned academia and emboldened critics of elite universities who argue that campuses are not confronting antisemitic rhetoric in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, and the subsequent Israeli invasion.

New York Times News Service

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