Inside the coup that toppled a Harvard Queen 

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Claudine Gay resigned Tuesday as president of Harvard University after conservative analysts drew attention to the diversity, equity, and inclusion movement’s takeover of higher education. Critics claim Gay’s plagiarism scandals and light academic record reveal DEI’s influence in undermining Harvard’s standards. Pictured: Gay testifies Dec. 5 before the House Education and Workforce Committee. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Claudine Gay ended her tenure Tuesday as the shortest president in the history of Harvard University, yet her resignation statement didn’t acknowledge the scandals that led to her ouster—instead suggesting that racism was to blame.

The incident arguably illustrates the effectiveness of conservative critics in drawing attention to Gay’s many scandals, and the fecklessness of a university so rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion that it refuses to acknowledge the ideological roots of the scandal.

The Controversy

Gay, who became Harvard’s president in September 2023, testified about antisemitism on campus at a Dec. 5 hearing in the House of Representatives. 

Toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., asked Gay and two other university presidents whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” violates the “code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment” at their universities. All three of the women hedged, saying the answer depends on context.

Three days later, Gay told The Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, that she was “sorry” and noted that her “words amplify distress and pain.” She said she had “got caught up in what had become at that point, an extended, combative exchange about policies and procedures,” adding that she “failed to convey what is my truth.”

Stefanik, a Harvard graduate, condemned Gay’s apology.

“No, Dr. Gay. You were given an opportunity to speak your truth,” Stefanik responded to Gay on X, formerly Twitter. “And you did. Not once. Not twice. Not 5 [times]. Not 10 [times]. I asked you 17 [times] (!!!) in the hearing about whether calling for the genocide of Jews violates [Harvard’s] code of conduct. You spoke your truth under oath 17 [times]. And the world heard it.”

University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill, who had given the same response as Gay in the Dec. 5 antisemitism hearing, resigned four days later amid pressure from donors. The chairman of Penn’s board of trustees also resigned. 

On Dec. 10, Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Chris Rufo published the first in a series of plagiarism accusations against Gay, comparing sections from the Harvard president’s 1997 dissertation to works published by others. 

On Dec. 12, Harvard announced that it had reviewed Gay’s published work after receiving accusations in October about three of her articles. The university cleared Gay of accusations that she had violated its standards for “research misconduct,” but said the review discovered “a few instances of inadequate citation.” Harvard announced that Gay would request “four corrections in two articles.”

On Dec. 22, the New York Post revealed that Harvard had sent the newspaper a letter in late October warning of a defamation lawsuit if it were to publish accusations of plagiarism. The letter claimed that the passages in question “are both cited and properly credited.” 

Also in December, Jay Greene, a senior research fellow in the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, and Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, drew attention to the paucity of Gay’s academic record. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news outlet.)

“Over about two decades, Gay has written 10 journal articles and no books,” Greene and Eden wrote. “This is about half the average rate for a political science professor, even at a middling university. By comparison, Amy Gutmann—who, like Gay, is a political scientist and until early last year served as president of the University of Pennsylvania—has published more than a dozen books and well over 100 articles.”

Furthermore, Greene and Eden noted that “Gay’s institutional rise was marked by a pattern of destroying the careers of genuinely brilliant black scholars who had the stature to point out her mediocrity.” They wrote that Gay led the charge to undermine black Harvard economist Roland Fryer and black Harvard Law professor Ronald Sullivan, who had agreed to serve as an attorney to help defend Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein from sexual assault charges.

Reporters and analysts went through works Gay’s published work, finding example after example of text blocks apparently lifted from other writers without attribution. The steady drip-drip-drip of information, coupled with conservative outlets such as The Daily Signal demanding answers and repeatedly raising the issue of DEI in education, appears to have led Harvard to reconsider.

These examples led Greene and Eden, among many others, to conclude that Gay had been an “affirmative action pick,” an example of the university’s prioritizing goals for “diversity, equity, and inclusion” over scholarly merit.

The Resignation

The President and Fellows of Harvard College, known as the Harvard Corporation, released a formal statement Tuesday accepting Gay’s resignation. The statement praises Gay for “her deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence,” hailing her “as a leader, a teacher, a scholar, a mentor, and an inspiration to many.”

“While President Gay has acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them, it is also true that she has shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks,” the statement continues. “While some of this has played out in the public domain, much of it has taken the form of repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls. We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms.”

Gay also released a formal statement, attributing at least some of the criticism she faced to “racial animus.”

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am—and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus,” she wrote. 

Gay said she resigned as Harvard’s president “so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.”

Lessons From Gay’s Forced Departure

The public campaign to reveal DEI corruption zeroed in on Gay because she arguably represented the worst of “woke” ideology—a woman elevated more for her skin color than for her merit, promoting the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and overlooking the rising threat of antisemitism from the Left. 

Some of the conservatives who drew attention to Gay’s scandals argued that her ouster wouldn’t affect the underlying issue.

“There were so many reasons that justified Gay’s removal as president that it is hard to say which one ultimately tipped the scale,” Greene, the Heritage education scholar, told The Daily Signal in a statement Tuesday. “She was a plagiarist who destroyed the careers of rival black scholars on her way to the top, idly stood by while Jew-hatred ran rampant on campus alleging a newly discovered commitment to free speech, fostered a dangerous expansion of DEI, and was fundamentally unqualified for the position in the first place. Any one of these should have disqualified her from leading Harvard.”

Greene called Gay’s removal an “essential step forward” but “clearly insufficient” because “almost all of the issues that justified her removal remain serious problems at Harvard.”

“The university is clearly unwilling to uphold scholarly standards against plagiarism,” Greene said. “The DEI cudgel she used to destroy rival black scholars can be used to accuse others of fostering hostile environments. Harvard continues to selectively enforce its code of conduct to permit anti-Jewish activity but not activity affecting other, protected groups. The DEI bureaucracy and the discriminatory oppressor/oppressed dichotomy it promotes remains undiminished. The board that selected her despite her manifest lack of qualification for the position remains in charge.”

Greene urged critics to continue the efforts that led to Gay’s ouster, keeping an eye out for other DEI scandals in academia.

“Public campaigns were effective in forcing Gay’s removal, but they need to be maintained and expanded to correct the long list of horribles that plague Harvard and much of higher education,” he said.

Mike Gonzalez, Heritage’s Angeles T. Arredondo E Pluribus Unum senior fellow, noted that billoinaire Bill Ackman said a Harvard source told him that the corporation selected Gay because she had met the criteria of the school’s DEI office. 

“It is of course impossible, unless we get confirmation, to know for certain whether Ms. Gay was a diversity hire, someone hired because of her race, but the circumstances strongly point in that direction,” Gonzalez told The Daily Signal. “She clearly did not meet the requirements, her plagiarism called into question her scholarship, and the board then refused to get rid of her after her testimony.”

“The lesson here is clear: we must hire and promote people on merit and merit only,” he argued. “Society suffers—and the individual in question will suffer as well, if only for having their achievements doubted—when we use something as superficial as race or ethnicity as a deciding factor. We will become a better country if we stick by that rule.”

“I will always deliver results,” Stefanik, the Republican congresswoman who questioned Gay in public on Dec. 5, said in a statement Tuesday. “The resignation of Harvard’s antisemitic plagiarist president is long overdue.”

“Claudine Gay’s morally bankrupt answers to my questions made history as the most-viewed congressional testimony in the history of the U.S. Congress,” Stefanik added. (The Daily Signal has not corroborated her claim.) “Her answers were absolutely pathetic and devoid of the moral leadership and academic integrity required of the president of Harvard.”

The New York Republican promised an ongoing investigation “to expose the rot in our most ‘prestigious’ higher education institutions,” saying that Gay’s resignation is “just the beginning of what will be the greatest scandal of any college or university in history.” 

Stefanik led a letter from Harvard alumni on Capitol Hill in October, demanding that Gay condemn a statement blaming Israel for the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7. She highlighted the rise in antisemitism on college campuses in a hearing in November and led a resolution condemning support for Hamas on college campuses that month. Last month, Stefanik led another resolution condemning antisemitism on college campuses, which passed with bipartisan support. 

The Manhattan Institute’s Rufo, one of Gay’s most vocal critics, addressed critics who tried to shrug him off with insults. 

“To all of my critics who snidely dismissed me as a ‘bad-faith actor’ and a ‘cartoon villain’: I was right. You were wrong. Gay is gone,” Rufo wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“The world of politics cannot be divided neatly between ‘good actors’ and ‘bad actors,’” he wrote. “Reality is not a Marvel movie; politics is not a child’s fable. There are only actors—fighters in the arena—some of whom are successful and some of whom are not. My strategies, however unorthodox, have proven successful at exposing corruption, changing public opinion, and moving institutions.”

While neither Gay nor Harvard acknowledged the scandals that led to Gay’s resignation, the event demonstrates the impact of conservative media, even as the Left dominates so many of America’s institutions. 

Critics may brand Rufo a “cartoon villain,” but he brought issues to light that led the president of America’s most prestigious university to resign. Those issues may remain unresolved, but the incident underscores just how important it is for outlets such as The Daily Signal to bring attention to them.