By Emmanuel Nduka
Faculty members are rallying support for Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, who is facing escalating pressure to resign, amidst calls from prominent alumni, donors and politicians for her resignation.
The group of faculty members are backing her with arguments that she was being pressurized for a moment of poorly worded remarks about anti-Semitism.
This is as the body that could ultimately decide Dr. Gay’s fate, the Harvard Corporation, met on Monday.
As of Sunday evening, more than 500 members of the Harvard faculty out of its about 2,300 members had signed a petition urging “in the strongest possible terms” to “resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Gay has apologized for her remarks before a congressional committee last Tuesday, which she acknowledged were inadequate.
“I am sorry. When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret,” Dr. Gay said in an interview.
Dr. Gay who is the first Black woman to lead Harvard, barely took on the role less than six months ago. And as her position grew increasingly tenuous, the fallout from last week’s hearing deepened.
Heritage Times HT reports that the eruption over Dr. Gay’s remarks came after she seemed to equivocate before Congress when she was asked whether university policies forbade calling for the genocide of Jewish people.
Within the last few days, Congressional Republicans have opened an investigation into the three institutions and major donors have threatened to rescind multimillion-dollar gifts — a rapid turn of events that has stunned academia and emboldened critics of elite universities who argue that campuses are not confronting anti-Semitic rhetoric in the wake of the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza.
When asked, “does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment? Yes or no?”, Dr. Gay replied, “It can be, depending on the context. Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation, that is actionable conduct, and we do take action.”
On Sunday, a group of 14 faculty members began circulating a petition opposing Dr. Gay’s removal, which they planned to deliver to the Harvard Corporation. It quickly garnered hundreds of signatures.
The petition which is two sentences long, urges the corporation to “resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, including calls for the removal of President Claudine Gay.”
Melani Cammett, a leader in the effort and professor of international relations, said the short statement reflected the fact that signers held a broad range of views on the war in Gaza, campus protest and Dr. Gay’s statement to Congress — but were united in resisting political pressure on Harvard.
Among the signers was Laurence Tribe, the constitutional law scholar, who had previously called Dr. Gay’s congressional testimony on anti-Semitism “hesitant, formulaic and bizarrely evasive.”
Tommy Barone, a junior, said he did not believe Dr. Gay should step down. “Her resigning would be dangerous and set a precedent for higher education that would signal that with enough resources and commitment, powerful people can cow universities into making fundamental decisions about their structure.”
Harvard’s Board of Overseers, an advisory group that includes 30 elected alumni as well as Harvard leaders including Dr. Gay, met on Sunday. The group’s agenda included a broad assessment of the university’s response to the Hamas attack on Israel and Israel’s ensuing war on Gaza, according to someone who attended the meeting but asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions. But no policy changes at Harvard were made.
Dr. Gay’s future at the school is expected to be discussed during the Harvard Corporation’s meeting on Monday. The meeting was long scheduled, but the topic of Dr. Gay’s fate became front and center after her congressional testimony on Tuesday.