President Gay

Image obtained via Wikimedia Commons

I first would like to thank President Claudine Gay for serving Harvard, my peers and myself through these three tumultuous months. President Gay experienced more tumult and unprecedented challenges than at almost any other point in Harvard’s history, and despite the rampant criticism she has faced for the university’s response to the present conflict, she made an unprecedented effort to make all voices and concerns heard at the university level. All of us, whether or not we disagreed with her response to the Hamas attacks and subsequent Israeli invasion, can agree that President Gay was a personable and relatable leader, and a leader we could look up to.

I am, nevertheless, disappointed in President Gay’s apparent lack of integrity in her research. On dozens of occasions, it was clear that she had reproduced, without proper citation, the work of other researchers; these included stolen phrases, sentences and paragraphs that she included in several of her papers. While there is varied opinion on whether these reproductions amounted to blatant plagiarism–and while I defer my position on this question to academics–it is clear to me that her papers tarnish Harvard’s reputation as a beacon of knowledge, free expression and truth. As the symbol of a university built upon the preservation of Veritas, of truth, President Gay should and was held to the highest standard of academic integrity. That is why, to me, President Gay’s resignation was the right decision, and I applaud her for prioritizing Harvard–and my classmates–in her decision.

Unfortunately, the circumstances leading up to President Gay’s resignation were not just based upon the allegations of plagiarism. Many pundits–both liberal and conservative–as well as the American public attacked Gay with racist dog-whistles, including that she was a “DEI hire”. While the American political landscape already permits blatant racism to persist, especially in our academic institutions, the attacks against President Gay were not only unsubstantiated, but unacceptably hateful and vitriolic. In her email to Harvard affiliates this afternoon, President Gay wrote that she was frightened “to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.” The Fellows of the Harvard Corporation, in a separate email, indicated that President Gay faced “deeply personal and sustained attacks” in the form of “racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls”. Unlike the doubt casted upon her academic integrity, the blatant racism directed at President Gay is odious, and only further shades America’s relationship with race. That this hatred in the public arena was a significant role in President Gay’s resignation, is an appalling development. 

As many of my classmates thankfully already have, I’d like to write in support of my black classmates, who may not only find this development heartbreakingly familiar, but also find themselves discouraged by the vitriol. Know that, despite the recent developments, you are equally valued as anyone else at our university. Do not let this discourage you from speaking up and striving to be a leader yourself. And to my fellow white classmates and white Americans, as well as myself: I encourage us all to approach this development with nuance and sympathy, and to avoid treatment of minority groups as monoliths. Indeed, we should use the pain here as an opportunity to refrain from judgment and listen to black voices and concerns. While amending this pain cannot be resolved with one action, I believe that it is in the best interest of the university to continue to prioritize diversity in its leadership, especially as it conducts its next presidential search.

As our university continues through one of its most unstable periods yet, I recommend that we refrain from unfair judgment to our Interim President, Alan Garber, especially on the basis of his Jewish faith. I am disappointed that several have made improper assumptions of Interim President Garber, and used dog-whistles directed at his Jewish heritage and background. Fighting racist dog-whistles with antisemitic dog-whistles is an unacceptable double standard, and I challenge my classmates to approach his presidency with more empathy also.

These next few months will, undoubtedly, be some of the most difficult for our university and for our country. We will have to address directly the racist undertones of American society, the ongoing war crimes committed against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the aftermath of Hamas’ unconscionable attacks on Israelis, our university’s reputation as a beacon of light and Veritas, and antisemitism and Islamophobia here and abroad. As we continue to bear out the storm, I hope that we can approach each other with empathy, respect, and a devotion to the good and commonality of all our planet’s people.Carl Sagan, the renowned astronomer and mastermind behind “Cosmos”, once wrote as he considered Voyager 1’s Pale Blue Dot image, that the singularity and insignificance of our planet “underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known”. Now more than ever, it is our responsibility to remind ourselves that, in the end, we are all one people, one shared human experience, and one world.

(Quote obtained via) Sagan, C. (1994). Pale Blue Dot. Random House.