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The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

The student news of St. Paul Academy and Summit School

The Rubicon

[FREE SPIRIT] Claudine Gay’s controversy pits free speech against morality

After serving the shortest tenure of any Harvard University president — six months and two days — Claudine Gay resigned on Jan. 2 in what she described as a “wrenching but necessary decision.”
Her resignation stemmed from two separate controversies, both involving issues driven by First Amendment freedoms. The first matter concerned student protests and disputes regarding antisemitic speech following the October 7th attacks on Israel, and the second pertained to a series of plagiarism accusations.

Gay was harshly criticized after failing to address a letter by a coalition of students that deemed Israel entirely responsible for the Hamas attacks. Although she later issued a statement in which she condemned the acts as “terrorist atrocities,” the damage had already been done.

On Dec. 5, Gay and two other female university presidents appeared in front of the House to address their untimely and frail responses to the Oct. 7 attacks. During the hearing, Gay was asked if calling for the genocide of Jews breached Harvard’s bullying and harassment policy. Her statement proved to be controversial. “It can be, depending on the context,” she said.

Her response was technically driven and legally correct but was quickly met with calls for resignation. Gay later apologized in an article published by the Harvard Crimson but stood her ground with backing from Harvard. Additionally, she claimed on multiple social media platforms that her accusers were confusing freedom of expression with condemning verbal violence against students.

Her response was technically driven and legally correct but was quickly met with calls for resignation.

— Orion Kim

Despite Gay’s questionable response, it’s hard to deny that the entire congressional hearing was a trap, attempting to force a misstep. Resentment toward Gay began long before her response, when renowned Harvard donor Bill Ackman led a campaign against her appointment. Originally, he claimed that Gay wasn’t qualified enough for the job, and only won the position because of diversity initiatives, since she was Black. After her weak responses following the attacks and in Congress, Ackman shifted tactics to demand a president that would strongly condemn antisemitic speech on campus.

Additionally, multiple plagiarism accusations began to mount against Gay, including a Harvard Corporation investigation that found two separate instances of insufficient citations in both her 1997 doctoral dissertation and other published works. Facing immense pressure on multiple fronts, Gay decided to resign.

The former Harvard president indeed made multiple missteps regarding the First Amendment. She made a poorly worded statement that misconstrued freedom of speech with a morally inclined response in the Dec. 5 hearing. She also committed multiple acts of plagiarism. However, she was put in an impossible position. During one of the most charged political climates of the decade, any statement could rile up individuals standing on either side of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Additionally, Gay was subject to another issue: racism. As a daughter of Haitian immigrants, she offered a unique perspective and served as an example of positive change in the sphere of collegiate diversity efforts. However, both powerful donors and political figures campaigned against her under the guise of disreputability and failure to condemn antisemitism.

As she described in an opinion piece published in the New York Times, “[Those campaigning against me] recycled tired racial stereotypes about Black talent and temperament. They pushed a false narrative of indifference and incompetence.”

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About the Contributor
Orion Kim
Orion Kim, co-Editor in Chief
My name is Orion Kim (he/him) and I’m the co-Editor in Chief of The Rubicon. At school, I’m captain of the soccer team and a member of the Asian Student Alliance. I also love to play the piano, watch movies, and eat good food. I can be reached at [email protected].

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