Harvard President Claudine Gay will remain in her role, the university’s top governing board announced Tuesday, after days of backlash and calls for her removal over her recent congressional testimony on antisemitism – a contrast to the fate of the University of Pennsylvania president, who resigned after similar testimony.

“In this tumultuous and difficult time, we unanimously stand in support of President Gay,” Harvard’s board said in a statement. “Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”

The announcement drew praise from some and denunciations from others, including Jewish advocacy groups. Conservative lawmakers and activists declared Harvard had made a mistake, with some citing allegations surfaced in recent days that Gay plagiarized parts of her academic work. Harvard’s board said that political scientists independently reviewed those allegations and cleared Gay from any real misconduct, although she is requesting four corrections appended to two articles to insert missing citations and quotation marks.

Gay has faced intense scrutiny and condemnation since her Dec. 5 testimony before a House panel, during which she and two other university presidents would not say that calls for the genocide of Jews violated their universities’ codes of conduct. Gay later apologized and clarified her remarks, saying that such calls “are vile, they have no place at Harvard, and those who threaten our Jewish students will be held to account.”

The other two presidents who testified, Sally Kornbluth of MIT and Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, have met similar outrage since their remarks, but differing fates.

Kornbluth’s job also appears safe, after MIT’s board of trustees swiftly issued a statement of “unreserved support” for their president. But Magill stepped down Saturday, shortly before the chair of Penn’s board of trustees, Scott L. Bok, announced his own decision to leave. He wrote in a note that Magill’s “position was no longer tenable, and she and I concurrently decided that it was time for her to exit.”


The reasons the outcomes for the three presidents have differed are complex, revolving around multiple factors, faculty and observers at all three universities said in interviews.

As Penn’s president, Magill entered the contentious congressional hearing earlier this month on thinner ice than her counterparts at MIT and Harvard. Students and alumni at Penn had been concerned for months about a spate of incidents, including a swastika painted in an academic building and antisemitic emails sent to Penn staff. And her decision this September to allow an outside group to host a Palestinian literary festival, even though some speakers had a history of antisemitic remarks, spurred an outcry.

Unsatisfied with the university’s response to antisemitism, powerful donors and members of the Wharton Board of Advisors leaned on Magill to do more. Unlike Gay, who joined the Harvard faculty in 2006, Magill lacked long-standing ties to professors at Penn who might have defended her. A former provost at the University of Virginia, Magill came to Penn in July 2022.

Harvard President Claudine Gay testifies during a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing on Dec. 5 about antisemitism on college campuses. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Kornbluth took the MIT job at the start of this year, just after the school faced a bruising fight over free speech. She soon endorsed a faculty-approved statement calling for freedom of expression – a move that earned support from many professors.

Wayne Stargardt, a graduate of the school and the president of the MIT Free Speech Alliance, which formed when faculty and others became alarmed that the school was losing its culture of open and freewheeling discourse, said Kornbluth has taken steps over the past year to support freedom of speech. “She was walking the walk” long before her congressional testimony, he said. And that was key to how people at MIT responded to the hearing, he said.

After Magill resigned, faculty and others at both MIT and Harvard spoke out to leaders on their campuses, urging them to stand up for their presidents.


At MIT, a group of current and former faculty leaders scrambled Sunday to draft a letter, sent the next day to the chair of MIT Corporation, declaring “unreserved and public support” for Kornbluth. As educators, they wrote, “we seek to open minds rather than to close mouths.” And what Kornbluth said during the hearing, they wrote, reflected that approach.

Deans, department heads and senior faculty leaders at MIT signed their own, second letter avowing “unreserved support.”

At Harvard, Gay also inspired a groundswell of support: More than 650 professors signed onto a letter asking the school to resist political pressures, including calls to remove the president, and to defend its independence and academic freedom. Dozens of Black faculty, including many prominent names, signed another letter supporting Gay – and 700-plus Black alumni and allies signed yet another urging her retention in the presidency.

Gay, who in July became the first Black person to lead Harvard, served as dean of the faculty before taking the top job – and earned high marks from many faculty for her time in that role.

No such public groundswell of support materialized at Penn.

Alison Frank Johnson, a Harvard history professor who helped organize one of the letters for Gay, said faculty at the Cambridge, Mass., institution had more time to act – and the glaring example of the Penn resignation was staring them in the face.


“I think seeing what happened there helped us realize just how dangerous the situation was,” Frank Johnson said, “and how frightening the precedent was that had been set, and would continue to be set if something like that happened at Harvard.”

The decision to keep Gay is unlikely to put an end to the controversy at Harvard.

Lawmakers and some Jewish groups condemned her continued leadership Tuesday. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, warned in a statement that Gay’s presidency imperils Jewish students. “Sooner or later President Gay and the policies she backs will have to go,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the center said.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who during the hearing pressed Gay and the other two presidents on whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated school policies, wrote on social media that she is displeased by Harvard’s failure to act – either to remove Gay or to install policies protecting Jewish students.

“The only update to Harvard’s code of conduct is to allow plagiarists as president,” wrote Stefanik, a graduate of the school.

Stefanik was referencing allegations that Gay plagiarized four academic works over the span of nearly 25 years, including her Ph.D. dissertation for Harvard, published in 1997. The charges have circulated on anonymous, online academia forums for at least a year, the Harvard Crimson reported, but burst into public view on Sunday and Monday in an article from the right-leaning Washington Free Beacon and through social media posts from Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who helped fuel national concern over the teaching of race in K-12 public schools.


The plagiarism allegations partly center on Gay’s repeating a small number of paragraphs and sentences from other works in almost identical language at times without providing a citation. In other cases, Gay included passages similar or identical to other texts without using quotation marks, although she cited the works.

The Harvard Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, wrote in its statement supporting Gay that the political scientists who reviewed the allegations found “a few instances of inadequate citation” but “no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.”

Several scholars dismissed the allegations. Gary King, a professor and the director of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard, wrote in an email that the plagiarism claims are false, absurd and implausible.

“If you were going to commit plagiarism, would you plagiarize your advisor’s work and expect to get away with it?” wrote King, who was Gay’s adviser. “No one could have read her dissertation as claiming to have invented the methods in my book, which she cites prominently.”

Another academic she is alleged to have cited improperly, Lawrence D. Bobo, a professor and dean of social science at Harvard, wrote in an email: “I find myself unconcerned about these claims as our work was explicitly acknowledged.”

Still, Carol Swain, a retired professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, said she thinks Gay should resign. Gay in her dissertation did not properly cite research Swain had done, Swain said, listing her work in the bibliography but not “engaging with it” in the text.


Some on and off the Harvard campus took issue with what they called the charged and identity-based nature of the criticism of Gay. One especially vocal critic, prominent Harvard alum and billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, has said Gay was hired in part because of her race and gender.

In the Black professors’ letter supporting Gay, they wrote it is “specious and politically motivated” to make such a suggestion.

Frank Johnson, the Harvard history professor, said some critiques of Gay seem to center on “the presumption that a Black woman could only be a president of Harvard because they want a Black woman.”

She added: “It’s a ridiculous assumption. And it’s an insult.”

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