Harvard President’s Resignation Shows the Lack of Concern for Jewish Students’ Safety

Matthew Lobel,  January 17, 2024

Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation sends a message to Jewish students: the university remains unconcerned with your safety and wellbeing. Although Dr. Gay stepped down, she did so with accolades and thanks from the university board.

Dr. Gay initially came under fire when she failed forthrightly to condemn the Hamas massacre of Israeli civilians. Then came her infamous and disastrous congressional testimony, when she was unable to say that calling for “the genocide of Jews” violated Harvard’s policies on bullying, intimidation, and harassment. Outrageously, that was not enough for the Harvard Corporation to fire her on the spot or demand her resignation.

Instead, when multiple instances of plagiarism were uncovered — 47 at last count — Dr. Gay finally resigned. The well-documented and widely reported offenses, which span almost half of her shockingly thin set of 11 published works, strike at the core of academic integrity. In several cases, she copied language and data descriptions verbatim from fellow academics without quotation marks or even a citation. Despite this blatant intellectual dishonesty, she refused to take responsibility for her actions and instead cast her critics as racists in her resignation letter.

Gay’s ad hominem attack is baseless, but her ouster does shine a needed spotlight on the role campus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts played in the hiring of Dr. Gay. DEI programs, which lazily reduce society into classes of oppressors and oppressed, advocate for hiring practices that prioritize diversification efforts over merit-based selection. Dr. Gay was simply not qualified to run an elite university even before the pervasive plagiarism came to light.

However, as a Jewish American and recent college graduate, I am left disappointed by this outcome. I am left wondering why the Harvard Corporation defended Dr. Gay after her original sin — her equivocating response to harassment and calls for genocide. Or why are they allowing her to remain a professor at the university while retaining the $900,000-a-year salary she enjoyed as president? This hardly feels like a punishment, and other like-minded, high-ranking university officials are surely taking note.

Worse yet, this sends a clear message to students that the Harvard Corporation is not willing to do the hard work of ripping antisemitism out by the root.

I have seen what happens when antisemitic vitriol is not appropriately combated on a college campus. As a graduate of George Washington University this past spring, I was there when the TKE fraternity house’s torah was desecrated. Now, as an alumnus, I watched as antisemitic slurs were projected on school buildings, celebrating those who slaughtered Jewish civilians.

The reality is that before Dr. Gay’s plagiarism was revealed, she failed to condemn forcefully 34 student groups led by the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, which declared “the Israeli regime, entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Her administration responded with platitudes, saying they were “heartbroken” by the Hamas attack and the general scenes of war.

After scathing criticism by students, politicians, and former Harvard President Larry Summers, Dr. Gay was still unwilling to condemn the student groups for their statement or make it abundantly clear that antisemitism harassment will not be tolerated in any form at Harvard.

She continued to bungle statement after statement.

Dr. Gay eventually released a video in which she deflected questions of antisemitism by pointing to her steadfast commitment to “freedom of expression.” This comes despite Harvard’s extensive history of shutting down heterodox points of view. Just last year, the university disinvited Devin Buckley, a feminist scholar who was slated to give a talk about British Romanticism, because she is critical of transgender ideology.

All the while, Jewish students at Harvard were enduring unprecedented levels of hatred and harassment. Videos and reports emerged of Jewish students getting physically and verbally assaulted, including being spat on. Student mobs chanting “globalize the intifada,” a call for violence against Jews globally, went viral on social media.

The lack of moral clarity displayed by Dr. Gay over this period was disgusting. Her inability to set the narrative straight — to condemn hatred, harassment, and intimidation on her own campus — emboldened students’ antisemitic behavior. The failure of presidents to lead on this issue is part of the reason many are incapable of discerning the different manifestations of antisemitism.

The breadth of antisemitic attitudes among young people suggests a grim future for American Jewry. A recent Harvard University/Harris poll found that 67% of 18- to 24-year-olds believe that “Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors.” This comes on top of an Economist/YouGov survey finding that 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds believe the Holocaust is a myth, whereas no one above the age of 65 agrees.

If we want to live in a society that disavows Holocaust deniers and Hamas cheerleaders, we must pressure university boards not to hire equivocators in the face of Jew hatred like Claudine Gay. College boards must choose leaders who swiftly denounce hate, not those who waver in the face of bigotry.

Matthew Lobel is a policy analyst who works on higher education and economic policy at the America First Policy Institute. He is a 2023 graduate of George Washington University.

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