On Jan. 2, Claudine Gay stepped down as president of Harvard University.
After giving controversial testimony at a Capitol Hill hearing on antisemitism on college campuses, the calls for Harvard University President Claudine Gay to step down came and did not cease.
Even former President Barack Obama went to bat for Gay, encouraging the Ivy League institution to keep its first Black woman president in her post.
However on Jan. 2, Gay relented to the criticism and threats, stepping down as Harvard’s president, despite keeping her $900K salary and a teaching position.
Immediately, many leaders in the African-American community began stating that getting Gay to step down was less about antisemitism and more about anti-African-American racism.
Critics of Gay even accused her of plagiarism during her academic career.
Rev. Al Sharpton labeled Gay’s resignation as “an assault on the health, strength and future of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The civil rights activist and MSNBC talk show host added, “President Gay’s resignation is about more than a person or a single incident. This is an attack on every Black woman in this country who’s put a crack in the glass ceiling…Most of all, this was the result of Bill Ackman’s relentless campaign against President Gay, not because of her leadership or credentials but because he felt she was a DEI hire.”
Bianca Quilantan of Politico reported, “Conservatives across the country have tried to dismantle programs aimed at promoting campus diversity and supporting underrepresented students. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2023 decision to bar colleges from considering race in admissions fueled the push to end diversity efforts.
“Sharpton on Tuesday took aim at one of Gay’s critics, Bill Ackerman, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Harvard alum who has called on her to resign and suggested she was hired in part because of her race. Ackman also wrote an open letter to Harvard criticizing Gay’s failure to condemn the October Hamas attacks on Israel in her initial statement and has used his X account, the platform formerly known as Twitter, to post other criticisms of Gay.”
Sharpton said that his organization National Action Network will protest outside of Ackerman’s New York City office on Jan. 4.
“If he doesn’t think Black Americans belong in the C-Suite, the Ivy League, or any other hallowed halls, we’ll make ourselves at home outside his office,” the civil rights activist said.
On X Ackman said, “President Gay resigned because she lost the confidence of the University at large due to her actions and inactions and other failures of leadership. Gay resigned because it was untenable for her to remain President of Harvard due to her failings of leadership.”
However, Ackman was not the only person to criticize the hire of an African-American woman as president of Harvard.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said, “it was a thinly veiled exercise in race & gender when they selected Claudine Gay.”
Ramaswamy added, “Here’s a radical idea for the future: select leadership based on *merit.* It’s a great approach, actually.”
Nevertheless, many believe when people credit the hire of a minority to DEI and not merit, then they are proving racism by assuming that the minority is not qualified simply because they represent a minority group.
Morehouse College President David Thomas criticized Ackman last month for comments he made on X about Harvard’s presidential search committee not considering a candidate who did not meet the DEI office’s criteria.
Thomas said, “Mr. Ackman and others are right to call attention to the issues of antisemitism at his alma mater where he attended as a Jewish student. To turn the question to the legitimacy of President Gay’s selection because she is a Black woman is a dog whistle we have heard before: Black and female, equal not qualified. We must call it out.”
Throughout the controversy, Gay said she had endured racist threats by those opposed to her comments on antisemitism.
In a statement supporting Gay, the Harvard Corporation, the school’s governing body, said, “While president Gay has acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them, it is also true that she has shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks. While some of this has played out in the public domain, much of it has taken the form of repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls. We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms.”
Janai Nelson, who serves as president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, called the attacks on Gay as unrelenting and unmasking of people’s biases.
On X Nelson wrote, “Her resignation on the heels of Liz Magill’s set a dangerous precedent in the academy for political witch hunts.”
Magill resigned as president of University of Pennsylvania in December after receiving criticism of her performance on Capitol Hill during hearings about antisemitism on college campuses.
Nelson added, “The project isn’t to thwart hate but to foment it thru vicious takedowns. This protects no one.”
PEN America also spoke out on unrealistic expectations for academicians and “undue” influence in education after the resignation of Magill.
In statement released in December, Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America said, “We should not hold university leaders to impossible standards, nor reward combative approaches by campus constituencies that overlook the genuine challenges involved. We hope that this development does not serve as invitation for politicians or donors to try to exert undue control over our higher education intuitions.”