On July 1st, 2023, Harvard University elected its first Black second woman president, Claudine Gay, to lead the prestigious institution. Optimism surrounded this historic event, given it occurred just two days following the breakthrough decision from the Supreme Court ruling against Harvard, which asserted the effective eradication of the usage of race-conscious admission practices. At that juncture, the future of Harvard’s admissions immensely relied on her presidency, which was anticipated to last for more than a decade. A complete turnaround occurred. Six months into her tenure, Gay resigned on January 2nd, 2024. In an email on this date, Gay wrote, “It has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.” Her term was registered as the briefest presidency in Harvard’s history.

Several factors instigated this event. Nevertheless, the root cause lies in the response Gay penned on behalf of Harvard regarding a rise in discord and hate after the onset of the Israel-Hamas War. Gay faced national backlash for her letter, which failed to address a controversial pro-Palestine statement signed by more than 30 student groups, or to directly condemn the actions of Hamas.

Claudine Gay, along with former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth, testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee on December 5, 2023 concerning the rise in antisemitism on college campuses following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October. The trio declined to offer a definitive answer to a question posed by the U.S. Republican Representative Elise Stefanik as to whether proclaiming the genocide of Jewish people would contravene their universitys’ codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment, asserting they had to balance it with preserving free speech. Citing dissatisfaction with the presidents’ testimonies, more than 70 U.S. lawmakers endorsed a letter demanding that the three presidents resign.

Additionally, Gay encountered intense pressure due to the emergence of plagiarism allegations, after her controversy triggered intensive scrutiny of her academic record. According to the Harvard board, a school subcommittee and independent panel charged with investigating these allegations discovered a few instances of inadequate citation, but no blatant violation of Harvard’s standard for research misconduct. Gay was reported to be proactively requesting four corrections.

Gay will continue to serve on Harvard’s faculty as according to the former president of Harvard Lawrence S. Bacow, her profound intellect, integrity, vision, and strength contributed not solely to Harvard, but to the wider scope of higher education.