January 3, 2024 - 7:00am

Following what is now the shortest presidency in Harvard University’s history, Claudine Gay’s resignation still felt long overdue.

Ever since Gay testified before the US Congress alongside two fellow university presidents — Sally Kornbluth of MIT and Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania — her days were numbered. The purpose of their appearance was to discuss campus responses to antisemitism and free speech issues in the wake of Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel. Yet, ill-prepared and faltering in their responses, all three presidents were widely criticised for lacking clarity, depth, and moral leadership. 

Magill quickly resigned; Gay, despite clinging on into the new year, was never able to recover from that botched testimony, in which she claimed that whether calls for genocide violated university policy would “depend on the context”. 

Perhaps Gay’s downfall was entirely foreseeable. Clearly, the university did not perform its due diligence: story after story has now confirmed that much of the now ex-president’s scholarship was plagiarised. For a long time, faculty members and students at Harvard made no public comment about Gay’s lack of scholarly merit. All the while, along with the likes of activist Christopher Rufo and the Washington Free Beacon’s Aaron Sibarium, I wrote numerous articles over the last two years about the dozens of examples of plagiarism attributed to her academic record. Still, our work was largely ignored by the University.

In fact, our efforts were at first roundly mocked by America’s establishment press — yet following last month’s congressional hearings, even liberal outlets were calling for Harvard’s President to resign. A dumbfounded New York Times asked last week: “How did a small group of conservative activists seem to know more about Gay’s scholarship than the governing body responsible for vetting her selection?”

It should have been obvious that a career total of 11 published papers (all on the topic of racial grievances) was not only insufficient to become president of Ivy League Harvard, but not even enough to become a department chair at a top 100-ranked university. When she was granted tenure in 2005, she had only published four papers. Harvard ignored these facts while rapidly promoting her, and the result is one of the most significant embarrassments in the institution’s 388-year history. 

Harvard was once a shining beacon for other American, indeed global, universities to aspire to; now it is a cautionary tale. If other institutions wish to avoid becoming a punchline (and losing swathes of donor funding), they would do well to operate purely based on merit, and end their reliance on the DEI industry. 

When institutions abandon academic standards and elevate individuals based on identity characteristics rather than accomplishments, they compromise their integrity and undermine their credibility. Billionaire activist and Harvard donor Bill Ackman has alleged of Gay, who is the black daughter of Haitian immigrant parents, that “I learned from someone with first person knowledge of the Harvard president search that the committee would not consider a candidate who did not meet the DEI office’s criteria.”

The national spotlight now turns to MIT president Kornbluth, the last of the three presidents to testify in front of Congress who still has her job. In the hour following Gay’s resignation, the gambling market for “Will Sally Kornbluth be ousted before 2025? rose from 11% to 20%. University administrators across the country will now be scrambling to make sure that donor concerns are listened to, so that they might avoid a similar fate.

Christopher Brunet is a contributing editor at the American Conservative and writes an online newsletter at karlstack.substack.com