Claudine Gay has served as president of Harvard University only since July, but she has faced criticism on two fronts: her response to rising tensions on campus over the Israel-Gaza war, and questions about possible plagiarism in her academic work.
Here are some key moments during Dr. Gay’s stint as president.
Dec. 15, 2022
Harvard University announces that Dr. Gay, the school’s dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, will become president the following year. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, she will be the university’s first Black leader and the second woman to hold the position. Dr. Gay received an undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard.
July 1, 2023
Dr. Gay, 53, officially begins in the job. A supporter of diversity in hiring and an expert on minority representation and political participation in government, she takes the reins just as the Supreme Court rejected the use of race-conscious admissions at Harvard and other universities around the nation.
The day after the Hamas attack on Israel, a coalition of more than 30 student groups at Harvard publishes an open letter, saying it holds “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” The letter receives intense backlash.
Dr. Gay and Harvard’s leadership come under fire for not publicly condemning the Hamas attack or denouncing the letter from the student groups. Amid rising pressure from alumni and donors, university leaders including Dr. Gay issue a statement expressing heartbreak over the death and destruction from the war while calling for “an environment of dialogue and empathy.”
Dr. Gay releases another letter, this time more forcefully condemning the “terrorist atrocities perpetrated by Hamas,” as well as denouncing the letter from the student groups. “While our students have the right to speak for themselves, no student group — not even 30 student groups — speaks for Harvard University or its leadership,” she says in the letter.
A campaign targets students affiliated with the groups that signed the open letter. A truck with a digital billboard — paid for by a conservative group — circles Harvard Square, flashing students’ photos and names under the headline “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.” Dr. Gay releases another statement, this time in a video format, in which she states that Harvard rejects hate.
Harvard receives an inquiry from The New York Post about what it later describes as “anonymous allegations” of plagiarism in Dr. Gay’s work.
At a Sabbath dinner at Harvard Hillel, Dr. Gay announces the formation of an advisory group to help her “develop a robust strategy for confronting antisemitism on campus.” She also condemns the phrase “from the river to the sea,” a slogan that pro-Palestinian activists use as a call for liberation but that many Jews see as a call for violence against them.
According to the university, the Harvard Corporation appoints an independent panel of three experts on this day to conduct a review of Dr. Gay’s papers that were referenced in the anonymous allegations.
After coming under criticism for weeks over what detractors said were tepid responses to rising antisemitism on campus, Dr. Gay writes a letter to members of the larger Harvard community addressing the tensions. “Harvard rejects all forms of hate, and we are committed to addressing them,” she writes. “Let me reiterate what I and other Harvard leaders have said previously: Antisemitism has no place at Harvard.”
The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Education Department announces an investigation into allegations of antisemitism at Harvard.
Dr. Gay, along with the presidents of M.I.T. and the University of Pennsylvania, testifies at a congressional hearing that House Republicans convened to address issues of bias against Jewish students. During the hearing, Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, asks: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?”
Dr. Gay replies, “It can be, depending on the context.” She adds: “Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation, that is actionable conduct, and we do take action.”
Following heavy criticism of the presidents’ responses at the hearing, Dr. Gay apologizes in an interview with The Harvard Crimson, the campus newspaper. “What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community — threats to our Jewish students — have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged,” Dr. Gay says.
Allegations about plagiarism in Dr. Gay’s 1997 doctoral dissertation are publicly raised in a newsletter by the conservative activist Christopher Rufo.
A group of 14 faculty members begin circulating a petition opposing Dr. Gay’s removal. It quickly garners hundreds of signatures.
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative media outlet, publishes its own investigation of Dr. Gay’s academic papers, identifying what it said were issues with four of them published between 1993 and 2017, including the doctoral dissertation.
Harvard’s governing board, the Harvard Corporation, acknowledges that Dr. Gay had made mistakes but decides that she would remain in her job. In its statement, the Corporation briefly addresses the allegations about her scholarship. It says an independent inquiry investigated her published work and found two papers needing additional citations, but no “research misconduct.”
Facing mounting questions over possible plagiarism in Dr. Gay’s scholarly work, Harvard says that it found two additional instances of insufficient citation in Dr. Gay’s 1997 doctoral dissertation — examples of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution.” The university says Dr. Gay will update her dissertation correcting those instances.
That same day, a congressional committee investigating Harvard sends a letter to the university demanding all of its documentation and communications related to the allegations.
Anemona Hartocollis, Sarah Mervosh, Jennifer Schuessler, Vimal Patel, Dana Goldstein, Jeremy W. Peters, Rob Copeland, and Stephanie Saul contributed reporting.