Secretive Harvard Corporation That Backed Claudine Gay Facing Pressure
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 05: Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Committee held a hearing to investigate antisemitism on college campuses. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The secretive board called the Harvard Corporation that decided to retain Harvard president Claudine Gay after revelations about her repeated plagiarism had surfaced and she had made controversial statements about anti-Semitism on campus is facing increased pressure to address the problem more actively.

Two of the board members, nonprofit founder Tracy Palandjian and the private-equity executive Paul Finnegan, met with academics demanding they do more to counter the damage done to the school’s image after a growing number of donors said they were through with the school.

“You need to be more out front of this,” Jeff Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, said he told the board members, according to The New York Times. “If people are saying the university is making mistakes — they are talking about you!”

Palandjian reportedly said replacing Gay was not enough, that the university required “generational change.”

Board member Penny Pritzker, who championed Gay’s hiring, served as secretary of commerce in the Barack Obama administration.

Although revelations of Gay’s plagiarism blew up in mid-December after her appearance before Congress about anti-Semitism on campus, the Times noted that the Harvard Corporation had been investigating Gay’s academic work since October after a New York Post reporter contacted the board with the allegations.

“Asked on Saturday whether the board would publicly reaffirm its support for Dr. Gay, the Harvard spokesman said the corporation had nothing to add beyond the Dec. 12 statement in support of Dr. Gay, which preceded the latest wave of plagiarism allegations,” The Times reported.

Meanwhile, major Harvard donor Bill Ackman, who gave $26 million to Harvard in 2014 and has called for the resignation of Gay, tweeted over the weekend that he had heard from a source that the corporation had asked Gay to resign and she had refused. He wrote:

I have heard from a source that is reliable but a step or two removed from the situation that the @Harvard  Corporation has asked President Gay to resign and she has refused.  Gay has apparently said that if she is fired, she will sue. Gay has retained her own counsel. I can’t 100% confirm the above is true, but if it is, I am sure the Board is concerned about what may emerge in legal discovery in the event of litigation. At this point, however, what choice does the Board have? If the Board makes an inappropriate deal on severance or gives Gay a guaranteed position at Harvard, it will look like a payoff to keep her quiet.

I can’t see how she stays at Harvard in any capacity. President Gay’s performance and her academic record issues provide plenty of cause for termination without compensation. But at every step so far, the Board has made the wrong call and dug a deeper hole for themselves and Harvard. As we all know, the best time to start making good decisions is now. The sooner Gay is gone, the sooner repairing the damage can begin.

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