Harvard President Claudine Gay resigns after plagiarism and campus antisemitism accusations

Gay made the decision to step down as Harvard’s president late last week, a person close to Gay told CNN.

Harvard President Claudine Gay announced Tuesday she is stepping down just six months into her presidency amid a firestorm of controversy at the university.

“It is with a heavy heart but a deep love for Harvard that I write to share that I will be stepping down as president,” Gay wrote in a letter to the Harvard community. “After consultation with members of the Corporation, it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.”

Gay did not say when she plans to formally step down but she described the decision as “difficult beyond words.”

Gay’s resignation comes amid a period of extreme turmoil at one of America’s most prestigious universities and marks the end of the presidency of the first Black president and second woman in Harvard’s nearly 400-year history. The controversy swirling around Harvard drew in CEOs, billionaires, powerful donors and even leaders of Congress.

Gay made the decision to step down as Harvard’s president late last week, a person close to Gay told CNN.

That timing indicates Gay was already planning to resign before new plagiarism allegations emerged that were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon on Monday.

Gay acknowledged the short length of her tenure, writing: “When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity — and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education,” Gay said.

She also noted that “it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor — two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am — and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”

In a letter Tuesday, the Harvard Corporation defended Gay and said they accepted her resignation “with sorrow.” The Corporation, which is the university’s governing body, said she showed “remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks.”

“While some of this has played out in the public domain, much of it has taken the form of repugnant and in some cases racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls. We condemn such attacks in the strongest possible terms,” the letter read.

Controversy on campus and across the country

Gay was undone in part by an ongoing plagiarism scandal and a disastrous congressional hearing last month in which she and other university presidents failed to explicitly say calls for genocide of Jewish people constituted bullying and harassment on campus.

Tensions have surged on some college campuses following the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas against Israel. There have been hundreds of protests and counterprotests on college campuses, with some of them turning violent.

The faces and names of some students allegedly linked to anti-Israel statements were displayed on mobile billboards near the campuses of both Harvard and Columbia. Another Ivy League school, the University of Pennsylvania, alerted the FBI to violent antisemitic threats made against some faculty members.

Separately, Gay had drawn widespread criticism after accusations of plagiarism emerged, including multiple instances of missing quotation marks and citations. Harvard recently announced Gay planned to submit corrections to her 1997 PhD dissertation to correct instances of “inadequate citation,” adding to the ones she issued earlier to a pair of scholarly articles she wrote in the 2000s.

Notably, the university called those corrections “regrettable,” but found they did not meet the punishable threshold of research misconduct.

Plagiarism allegations

CNN spoke with two plagiarism experts about new allegations of plagiarism against Gay, as first reported by the conservative publication, the Washington Free Beacon.

Both said elements of Gay’s 2001 article, “The Effect of Minority Districts and Minority Representation on Political Participation in California,” constituted plagiarism.

Several sentences from scholar David T. Canon’s 1999 book appear in Gay’s article.  But Gay failed to use quotation marks or cite the work in two passages. His end notes are almost verbatim in her footnotes.

Canon told CNN on Tuesday: “I am not at all concerned about the passages in the Free Beacon article concerning my work. Both Dr. Gay and I are defining basic terms. Good definitions of these terms would have to use similar language or they would not be accurate. This isn’t even close to an example of academic plagiarism.”

But experts noted that the feelings of the author are not a factor when assessing a case of potential plagiarism.

Jonathan Bailey, a plagiarism and copyright consultant who runs the site Plagiarism Today, told CNN Gay’s resignation was “likely the best thing she could do for her and the school.”

“The plagiarism scandals have become a tremendous distraction for both her and the school. While another researcher with a similar pattern of issues would likely not be forced to resign or face termination, she is both the president of Harvard and the center of a very politically charged story. Her situation is unique,” he said.

Michael Dougherty, a professor of philosophy at Ohio Dominican University who has written two books on plagiarism, told CNN over email, “The problem here is that readers of Gay’s text cannot, from the text itself, tell whose voice is speaking in the text,” he said.

He added that academics and students are obligated to write their own sentences and give credit when words originate with someone else, using quotation marks, footnotes in the right place, block quotes, and the like.

“The apparent failure to use quotation marks means that David Canon’s authorship over these words is suppressed, even though Canon is mentioned elsewhere,” he said.

Interim president selected

Alan M. Garber, who currently serves as provost and chief academic officer at Harvard, will step in as interim president until the school finds a new leader, the Harvard Corporation announced in a letter on Tuesday.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Alan’s broad and deep experience, incisive judgment, collaborative style, and extraordinary institutional knowledge to carry forward key priorities and to guide the university through this interim period,” the corporation said.

The Corporation said the search for a new president would “begin in due course,” but did not specify an exact timeline.

Gay said in her letter she would return to a faculty position “and to the scholarship and teaching that are the lifeblood of what we do.”

A spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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