The future of Harvard University’s president, Claudine Gay, was on the line today as the school’s governing body met amid calls for her removal after the widely criticized comments she made last week about antisemitism on campus.
As donors ratcheted up a pressure campaign to oust Gay, about 700 members of Harvard’s faculty came to her defense in several open letters. One, from Black faculty members, called the attacks on the president “specious and politically motivated.” The letter, which was drafted and signed by some of Harvard’s most prominent professors, said Gay “should be given the chance to fulfill her term to demonstrate her vision for Harvard.”
Gay, who assumed the university’s top job in July, is Harvard’s first Black president.
Critics of Gay, too, pressed their case publicly. One of the most outspoken, William Ackman, a billionaire hedge fund manager, wrote on social media site X (formerly Twitter) on Sunday evening that “President Gay’s mishandling of October 7th and its aftermath on campus have led to the metastasis of antisemitism to other universities and institutions around the world.”
A letter expressing “no confidence” in Gay was also gaining support today. Signed by Harvard students and alumni, it urged her to resign or be relieved of her position. “It is not appropriate for Claudine Gay to serve as President of Harvard, as she does not represent our collective values or the Harvard that we have come to know,” the letter said.
The Harvard community has been plunged into one of its deepest crises in years, forcing it to reckon with difficult questions of race, religion and tolerance. Similar debates are playing out on college campuses across the country as school administrators face accusations that they have ignored or downplayed incidents of antisemitism after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza.
Underpinning these debates is a tension between, on the one hand, students and many professors who say their freedom of expression is being stifled and, on the other, alumni and politicians who complain that universities have allowed intolerance to grow unchecked.
By midday today, the dueling open letters and social media posts were the only public accounting of the dispute. The university’s governing board, the Harvard Corporation, which could have the final word on Gay’s future, was meeting behind closed doors. An agenda for the meeting was not made available. A Harvard spokesperson declined to comment today about the board’s meeting.
Gay’s supporters hoped that she would avoid the fate of the president of the University of Pennsylvania, Liz Magill, who resigned Saturday under pressure for her remarks about antisemitism.
Gay, Magill and Sally Kornbluth, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, testified before Congress last week in a hearing that House Republicans convened to address issues of bias against Jewish students. Their responses — noncommittal, halting and legalistic — to questions about how their schools’ disciplinary policies would apply to students who called for the genocide of Jews left many people outraged.
Congress has opened an investigation into the three universities, with Republicans threatening to subpoena school administrators.
Gay has since apologized for her remarks, saying that her words had amplified distress and pain on campus.
A faculty letter of support that started to circulate over the weekend had gained nearly 700 signatures by this morning, according to Melani Cammett, a professor of international relations and one of the lead organizers.
The signatories of the various letters included some of Harvard’s most prominent names: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a literary critic; Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar; Randall Kennedy, a professor of law; Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian of early America; William Julius Wilson, a sociologist; and Jason Furman, an economist and a former adviser to former President Barack Obama.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.