In an unprecedented move, more than 500 Harvard faculty members have come to the defense of University President Claudine Gay following intense backlash from a congressional hearing last week.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing, which focused on the rise of antisemitism on college campuses, saw Gay fail to clearly state whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s rules. Her hesitant and evasive answers drew criticism from lawmakers and alumni, sparking calls for her removal from her post.
Amid mounting pressure from donors and lawmakers, the Harvard Corporation and the Harvard Board of Overseers held an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation. According to sources, the Corporation is weighing whether to publicly support Gay.
In response to the scrutiny, the faculty members organized a letter of support for Gay, which was sent to the Corporation on Sunday evening. The letter urged the board to defend the independence of the university and resist political pressure to remove Gay from her position.
“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to defend the independence of the university and to resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom,” the letter read.
Looks like Harvard president Claudine Gay is digging in, and so is the Harvard board.
While Claudine Gay deserves to be fired, it’s also true that Harvard absolutely deserves to be led by an academic fraud and affirmative action hire. And that means that, in the long run, Gay’s… https://t.co/XVoXNNGJMK
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) December 12, 2023
The letter, organized by history professor Maya R. Jasanoff, argued that “soundbites” from the hearing had obscured the true message of Gay’s testimony. She and other faculty members placed blame on the House committee leadership for not acting in good faith.
In a standout moment from the hearing, House GOP Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik grilled Gay for a clear answer on whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s code of conduct. After an extended and heated exchange, Gay finally conceded that it could depend on the context.
Stefanik’s question and Gay’s response drew further criticism and sparked bipartisan calls for the removal of Gay from her position. Billionaire Harvard alum Bill Ackman sent a letter to the governing boards of Harvard, MIT, and UPenn, arguing that Gay’s “failures of leadership” had caused “an explosion of antisemitism and hate” on campus.
Despite this, the letter of support for Gay has garnered over 500 signatures from Harvard faculty members, including high-profile professors such as Laurence H. Tribe and Annette Gordon-Reed.
Among those who organized the letter were Jasanoff, history professor Alison Frank Johnson, and government professor Ryan D. Enos. Enos stated that the group’s main goal was for the Corporation to publicly state their support for Gay and the ability of faculty and students to engage in free inquiry.
The fact that 500 of Harvard’s faculty are lobbying for Claudine Gay to remain President of Harvard shows you the depth of rot & decay at Harvard.
— Daniel F. Baranowski (@DFBHarvard) December 11, 2023
The controversy also prompted Rabbi David Wolpe, a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School, to resign from the university’s antisemitism advisory committee. In a statement, he condemned the “ideology that works only along axes of oppression and places Jews as oppressors and therefore intrinsically evil.”
At the same time, Gay publicly apologized for her handling of the hearing and her failure to unequivocally condemn calls for the genocide of Jews. However, she also maintained that her true beliefs had been lost in the “combative” exchange with lawmakers.
Harvard’s handling of the situation has drawn intense scrutiny from both alumni and politicians. Many are calling for a clear stance from the university regarding the issue of academic freedom and the handling of antisemitism on campus.