Harvard University President Claudine Gay is under intensifying pressure to resign as a coalition of prominent alumni, donors, and politicians voice their demand for her removal. However, a group of faculty members has rallied to support her, contending that she is facing unwarranted criticism for a moment of poorly phrased remarks about antisemitism.
What did the Harvard president say?
The full hearing lasted for nearly six hours, but it was a tense 90-second exchange with Rep. Elise M. Stefanik ’06 (R-N.Y.) at the end of Gay’s testimony that went viral on social media, drawing national condemnation from the White House to Harvard’s Jewish centre.
“At Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment?” Stefanik asked.
“It can be, depending on the context,” Gay responded.
But Stefanik pressed Gay to give a yes or no answer to the question about whether calls for the genocide of Jews constitute a violation of Harvard’s policies.
“Antisemitic speech when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation — that is actionable conduct and we do take action,” Gay said.
Stefanik tried again.
“So the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?” Stefanik asked.
“Again, it depends on the context,” Gay said.
“It does not depend on the context. The answer is yes and this is why you should resign,” Stefanik shot back. “These are unacceptable answers across the board.”
The pivotal body that holds the authority to determine Dr. Gay's future, the Harvard Corporation, is set to convene on Monday to address the escalating controversy.
Claudine Gay issued an apology on Tuesday
Gay issued an apology for her remarks during a congressional committee hearing last Tuesday, acknowledging the inadequacy of her words. In an interview published by The Harvard Crimson on Friday, she expressed remorse, stating, "I am sorry. When words amplify distress and pain, I don't know how you could feel anything but regret." Dr. Gay, the first Black woman to lead Harvard, assumed the role less than six months ago.
During a five-hour hearing on December 5, Dr. Gay, alongside Penn's Elizabeth Magill and MIT President Sally Kornbluth, testified on their colleges' efforts to combat campus antisemitism, which observers note has been on the rise since October 7.
The testimonies, particularly those of Presidents Gay and Magill, have drawn criticism from both supporters of Israel and Palestine, with some demanding resignations or legal action. The president of the University of Pennsylvania, M. Elizabeth Magill, resigned on Saturday, four days after she appeared before Congress
House members argued that, under the umbrella of free speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, antisemitic comments and behaviour have been enabled within their college communities.
Pro-Palestinian students countered, asserting that calls for Palestinian liberation should not be conflated with antisemitism. The fate of Dr. Gay rests in the hands of the Harvard Corporation, whose decision will shape the course of this controversy.