President Claudine Gay falls at Harvard

She had no instinct for what was right. She was a moral and intellectual wasteland. So much for affirmative action, Destructive action might be a better term for it

Claudine Gay’s resignation Tuesday from the presidency of Harvard is a measure of accountability amid scandals on campus antisemitism and plagiarism. Her leadership had clearly become a drain on the school’s reputation. The question is whether the Harvard Corporation that chose her and presided over this debacle will rebalance by installing an educator who isn’t afraid to challenge the school’s dominant and censorious progressive factions.

In the months since Hamas brutally murdered Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, the atmosphere on Harvard’s campus has been hostile to Jewish students. During one rally, the Crimson newspaper reported, a student “led the crowd in a chant of ‘Long live Palestine; long live the intifada; intifada, intifada; globalise the intifada.” Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi of Harvard Chabad said Dec. 13 that a menorah couldn’t be left outside on campus overnight, “because there’s fear that it’ll be vandalised.” Sen. Dan Sullivan described on these pages the intimidating scene inside the school’s Widener Library.

That was only days after Ms. Gay’s disastrous testimony to the House, which also prompted the University of Pennsylvania’s president to quit. Asked about chants to “globalise the intifada,” Ms. Gay said such calls were “hateful,” “abhorrent,” and “at odds with the values of Harvard,” but she would not say that they violated the code of conduct.

Ms. Gay’s focus was what constitutes actionable bullying or harassment under First Amendment principles. But the double standard on her campus is obvious, and the presidents struck many Americans as smugly dismissive. Ms. Gay soon apologised, saying she “failed to convey what is my truth,” a thoroughly modern thing to say at an institution whose venerable motto is Veritas. “Her” truth, as opposed to the truth, which is what veritas is supposed to stand for.

Then came allegations that passages of text in Ms. Gay’s academic papers had been duplicated, sometimes almost verbatim, from other scholars. Harvard initially told the New York Post that plagiarism claims were “demonstrably false,” via a letter from a law firm with experience in defamation lawsuits, before admitting “inadequate citation” after stories about the allegations broke.

The Harvard Corporation has embarrassed itself throughout these controversies, declaring as recently as Dec. 12: “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.” The process of finding a new president, it said Tuesday, “will begin in due course.” In the interim, the role will be filled by Provost Alan Garber.

The prescription should be clear, at Harvard and beyond. What has been happening on college campuses results from the failure of leaders to support traditional liberal values of free inquiry and debate. Prestigious institutions are racked with ideological protest from a contingent of students and many faculty who seem to care more about activism than learning. Despite the distraction, or worse, that this poses to good academic work, administrators keep flinching instead of drawing hard lines.

It’s time to try the opposite. Perhaps Larry Summers is available to give it another go.


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