Ex-Harvard leader Claudine Gay admits ‘mistakes,’ warns of ‘campaign’ against institutions

The ousted former president of Harvard University warned in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday that her resignation could be a sign of a “campaign” against higher education.

Claudine Gay, who resigned from her post Tuesday after weeks of controversy sparked by a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism last month, also acknowledged that she “made mistakes” during her career that justified some criticism.

Calling her resignation “wrenching but necessary,” Gay described herself and Harvard as “under attack.”

“My character and intelligence have been impugned. My commitment to fighting antisemitism has been questioned,” she wrote. “My inbox has been flooded with invective, including death threats. I’ve been called the N-word more times than I care to count.”

“My hope is that by stepping down I will deny demagogues the opportunity to further weaponize my presidency in their campaign to undermine the ideals animating Harvard since its founding: excellence, openness, independence, truth,” she added.

Gay warned that the national political and media attention on her academic record, fomented by major conservative figures and politicians and unprecedented for a single private university employee, could mark a trend.

“The campaign against me was about more than one university and one leader. This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society,” she wrote.

“Trusted institutions of all types — from public health agencies to news organizations — will continue to fall victim to coordinated attempts to undermine their legitimacy and ruin their leaders’ credibility,” she continued.

The controversy surrounding Gay began last month, when she was joined by the leaders of the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at a House Education Committee hearing to discuss campus antisemitism.

The three university presidents all controversially said that calls for the genocide of Jewish people would only be considered harassment depending on context, remarks that launched a firestorm of criticism.

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill was ousted a week after the hearing over the backlash, apologizing for her comments in the hearing. The school’s board president also resigned.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth has stayed in her position, and the university has not publicly acknowledged her comments.

Gay said in the op-ed that her comments in the hearing were part of a “well-laid trap.”

After Magill’s resignation, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) brought to national attention previous concerns of academic misconduct in Gay’s prior work. Harvard said it had already cleared Gay of any claim of plagiarism, but additional allegations made calls for her resignation grow louder.

Gay admitted that some passages were misattributed but denied committing plagiarism.

“I have never misrepresented my research findings, nor have I ever claimed credit for the research of others,” she said. “Moreover, the citation errors should not obscure a fundamental truth: I proudly stand by my work and its impact on the field.”

“Never did I imagine needing to defend decades-old and broadly respected research, but the past several weeks have laid waste to truth,” she continued. “Those who had relentlessly campaigned to oust me since the fall often trafficked in lies and ad hominem insults, not reasoned argument. They recycled tired racial stereotypes about Black talent and temperament. They pushed a false narrative of indifference and incompetence.”

The former university president is set to stay on campus, continuing her previous role as a professor.

“Having now seen how quickly the truth can become a casualty amid controversy, I’d urge a broader caution: At tense moments, every one of us must be more skeptical than ever of the loudest and most extreme voices in our culture, however well organized or well-connected they might be,” she wrote. “Too often they are pursuing self-serving agendas that should be met with more questions and less credulity.”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.