Claudine Gay: Harvard President resigns after plagiarism allegations, criticism

Harvard University’s president has resigned after facing allegations of plagiarism and criticism over her comments about antisemitism on campus.

Claudine Gay has faced mounting pressure to step down in recent weeks.

In a letter announcing her resignation, she said it was in the “best interests” of the university for her to step down.

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigour,” she said.

“This is not a decision I came to easily. Indeed, it has been difficult beyond words,” Dr Gay wrote, adding that her resignation would allow Harvard to “focus on the institution rather than any individual”.

She said she had been subjected to personal threats and “racial animus”.

The 53-year-old served as president for six months and was the first black person, and only the second woman, to be appointed to lead the Ivy League university. Her tenure was the shortest in its 388-year history.

During a tense congressional hearing last month, Dr Gay said calls for the killing of Jews were abhorrent. She added, however, that it would depend on the context whether such comments would constitute a violation of Harvard’s code of conduct regarding bullying and harassment.

That comment prompted a widespread backlash and she later apologised in an interview with the university’s student newspaper. “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” Dr Gay said.

Dozens of politicians and some high-profile alumni called for her to step down over the comments.

But nearly 700 staff members rallied behind her in a letter and the university said she would keep her job despite the controversy.

But since then US media outlets have unearthed several instances of alleged plagiarism in her academic record. Harvard’s board investigated the allegations last month and found two published papers that required additional citation.

The board, however, said that she did not violate standards for research misconduct.

More claims that Dr Gay had failed to properly cite academic sources emerged just hours before she resigned on Tuesday and were published anonymously in the conservative Washington Free Beacon newspaper.

The university’s governing Harvard Corporation said in a statement that Dr Gay would resume her faculty position after resigning.

“We thank President Gay for her deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence,” it 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,” the statement added.

“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,” the corporation said. “We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms. The search for a new president of the university will begin in due course.”

Dr Gay is the second university official to resign following the 5 December congressional hearing.

Former University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill resigned just days later after an angry backlash. A donor also withdrew a $100m (£80m) grant in protest over her comments.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth also testified at the hearing.