Claudine Gay(l), Bill Ackman(r)

CBS Boston/Youtube Senate Democrats/Flickr (CC-BY)

‘A huge scalp but we can’t rest’: Anti-woke crusaders cheer Harvard president’s resignation after months-long campaign

Claudine Gay was the shortest serving president in Harvard's history


Marlon Ettinger


Posted on Jan 2, 2024

Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned today after a months-long pressure campaign by influential anti-woke businessmen and political figures. 

Gay came under scrutiny by the anti-woke movement as the symbol of the “woke” university system that didn’t do enough to protect Jews on campuses in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. 

Then, damaging allegations of plagiarism, which Harvard found had merit, further weakened her position.

An anti-woke crusade, pushed by prominent figures like hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, and Christopher Rufo, an anti-woke influencer in Florida, saw Gay as the symbol of all that was wrong with progressive, diversity-driven university policy, and celebrated Gay’s announcement.

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor,” Gay wrote in a letter announcing her resignation, “and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”

That line—acknowledging the racist tenor of some of the attacks on her—sparked mockery from her anti-woke critics alongside glee.

“Rather than take responsibility for minimizing antisemitism, committing serial plagiarism, intimidating the free press, and damaging the institution, she calls her critics racist,” wrote Rufo in a post on X. “This is the poison of DEI ideology. Glad she’s gone.”

“Claudine Gay’s resignation letter makes no mention of her serial plagiarism,” wrote the poet Joseph Massey. “No apology for enabling the terrorism of Jewish students. Instead, she says ‘scholarly rigor’ is one of her ‘bedrock values.’ And she is the victim of ‘racial animus.’ Arrogant and delusional.”

Headlines about Gay’s handling of pro-Palestine campus protests dominated mainstream media for months, and the scrutiny accelerated deep dives into her academic career disseminated by figures like Rufo.

Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, a Harvard alumnus who runs the $18 billion financial firm Pershing Capital, also spearheaded the campaign, writing an open letter to Gay on X in November where he accused her of failing to create a safe campus for Jewish students.

Ackman quickly retweeted Rufo’s post celebrating Gay’s departure.

At the beginning of December, Rufo documented cases of plagiarism in papers Gay had published. After a review, the Harvard Corporation agreed that the language in her work was duplicative and didn’t include appropriate attribution, and Gay asked for formal corrections to some of her work.

The plagiarism accusations came soon after a House of Representatives hearing into antisemitism led by Republican lawmakers who claimed that U.S. college campuses are rife with antisemitism. At that hearing, under questioning by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Gay defended free speech for pro-Palestine protesters, including speech that she said she found personally abhorrent, leading to further calls that Gay resign.

“I will always deliver results,” Stefanki said in a post on X today following Gay’s resignation. “The resignation of Harvard’s antisemitic plagiarist president is long overdue. Claudine Gay’s morally bankrupt answers to my questions made history as the most viewed congressional testimony in the history of the U.S. Congress.”

The University of Pennsylvania’s president, who also testified, resigned late last year. Ackman also tweeted “Et tu, Sally,” after Gay’s announcement, calling on MIT President Sally Kornbluth, who was also at the hearing, to step down as well.

Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who built a niche as an anti-woke campaigner, also celebrated Gay’s departure, implying that her initial selection was essentially a “diversity” hire.

“Back in 2006, I was one of 3 students appointed to the advisory board to select Harvard’s new President in 2007,” Ramaswamy wrote on X. “Back then, it was a foreordained conclusion that the next President would be a woman, no questions asked—shut up, sit down, do as you’re told. And it was a thinly veiled exercise in race & gender when they selected Claudine Gay.”

Momentum for Gay’s departure reached critical mass after the plagiarism allegations, with even her defenders acknowledging that they were valid. But plenty still saw the successful campaign to push her out as having little to do with concerns about academic rigor.

“I have no particular love for Claudine Gay,” wrote the historian David Austin Walsh on X in reaction to the news, “but this is a *major* victory for reactionary donors and the far right’s campaign to dismantle American higher education.”

“The fact that Gay managed to get shitcanned—whether or not the ‘official’ reason was the plagiarism, the catalyst was the hearing and the right-wing mobilization—is a testament to how weak politically and culturally weak higher education has already become,” Walsh wrote in another post.

“It was a racist sexist witch hunt,” @SeanNg1828 wrote. “Had president Gay been a white male, no one would have dared to stir the pot. Blatant systemic sexism and racism.”

But others said they were just getting started. 

“Claudine Gay’s is a huge scalp. No doubt about that,” wrote Newsweek editor-at-large Josh Hammer. “But we can’t rest on our laurels. This is a fight for civilizational sanity against civilizational arson. We can’t stop until the DEI cancer is fully eliminated.”

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*First Published: Jan 2, 2024, 3:11 pm CST