So Claudine Gay is out as Harvard’s president, mere months after she was elevated to such a prestigious position. Plenty of people with more extreme views than I are doing victory laps over this, and those still in her camp are decrying this as yet another concession to what they see as the cancerous influence of conservatism attempting to reclaim “the higher education mountain” for the good of what they believe qualifies as mankind.
To be sure, I’m not one of them. I don’t like see anyone losing their job, especially in this economic climate. And I’m continually chided by many who once were closer to me that I shouldn’t even have an opinion, considering I’m not in the demographic cells that is apparently most upset by this chain of events.
But I’ve spent a lifetime studying data and reviewing the opinions of those that are more directly affected, and I believe I’ve learned a thing or three about accurately processing them. Which is why I net out in the same camp that Jay Leno channeled when he asked Hugh Grant why he’d drive around the seedy streets of Hollywood for a tryst with a hooker while Elizabeth Hurley was waiting at home for him.
“What WERE you thinking?!?!”, exclaimed Leno, in perhaps the signature moment of his otherwise forgettable tenure as TONIGHT SHOW host.
Claudine Gay was given the opportunity of a lifetime, as high-visible a position in the academia world she claims to be devoted to. She was the first black woman to hold the title of Harvard president in nearly four centuries. She reportedly was earning north of seven figures. Both parties had to know going in that in this day and age there would always be those who would scrutinize something like this, even if the Israeli-Hamas situation hadn’t occurred.
Even if one is to assume, as many post-mortem reports have suggested, that she wasn’t fully aware of the plagirism she apparently committed as a student, assuming she actually was in touch with the students she was now leading she would at least have some idea of the standards she was being held to. Which is why of all the reports that have emerged in the wake of yesterday’s news, I was particularly drawn to one that emerged from BUSINESS INSIDER’s Tim Paradis:
While some in the Harvard community rallied around Gay in light of the accusations, one current Harvard law school student explained to Business Insider why she was happy to see Gay’s departure. BI granted her anonymity to talk freely about topics that have roiled campus in recent months.
The student, who is Jewish, said while she was appalled by Gay’s testimony before Congress, she didn’t think she necessarily had to resign. The student pointed to what she saw as poor coaching of Gay ahead of her testimony. But the accusations of plagiarism proved too much.
“It just kept getting worse and worse and worse,” the student said, referring to the claims about plagiarism. “It seemed like it was sort of devaluing our degree. You go to Harvard for a reason: because it has a brand name.”
A brand name, she said, that Gay has tarnished.
“I don’t think she should have been there to begin with,” the student added, indicating that she was concerned about what critics have derided as Gay’s light academic publishing record. “She’s clearly not a good leader. She hasn’t stepped up.”
The student said Gay’s appointment could be seen as a cynical attempt to elevate a woman of color to the job rather than employing the most qualified candidate.
“The message it gets across is, ‘We don’t take you so seriously so that, you know, we hold you to a lower standard than everyone else.’ That shouldn’t be the case at all. There are plenty of women of color who are professors that are more than qualified, that would be good leaders,” the student said.
It’s easy to dismiss this as one person’s view, except that the vaunted student newspaper THE HARVARD CRIMSON also called for her resignation. Her testimony before Congress where she refused to condemn what many student organizations at Harvard and elsewhere saw as anitsemitic attacks was damaging enough; the findings about her plagiristic past sealed her fate. She didn’t just lose the room; she lost the house. She lost the campus. She lost a good deal of the country.
And this is a generation that doesn’t necessarily support undeserving people along party lines. As USA TODAY’s Marina Pitofsky reported this weekend: they’re not buying other president’s messaging as much these days, either:
President Joe Biden faces a tough reelection bid in 2024, and he’s losing support among crucial segments of the Democratic base, according to a new USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll. Biden now claims the support of just 63% of Black voters, a precipitous decline from the 87% he carried in 2020, USA TODAY’s Susan Page, Savannah Kuchar and Sudiksha Kochi report. Among voters under 35, a generation largely at odds with the GOP on issues such as abortion access and climate change, Trump now leads 37%-33%. Younger voters overwhelmingly backed Biden in 2020.
Gay may not have have actually studied or read the passages from David T. Canon’s book that she incorporated into her PhD dissertation. But I’m hoping she was at least aware of the legacy of one Jackie Robinson. As the son of a Brooklyn Dodger fan, I knew this story long before a new generation learned of it through the brilliant Chadwick Boseman portrayal of the first Black major leaguer in the movie 42. Robinson was one of many talented Negro League stars, a veteran of several seasons in segregated baseball. Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey chose Robinson because, as legend has it, when he was tested by the racist torments of opponents and fans, he proved to be man enough not to fight back. Robinson was not a perfect man to be sure, in the later years of his life, he grew to be much less tolerant and dissatisfied with how he had handled some of those challenges. But he also knew his role in history was assured because of it.
Claudine Gay will have a place in history, like it or not, and as FOX Business’ Sarah Rumpf-Whitten is quick to point out, she’s still gonna earn her substantial salary regardless. She could have been a Jackie Robinson, or at least an Althea Gibson.
Instead, she harbored racist viewers, lied to get help get ahead, and got rich doing it.
Sure sounds like a familiar playbook, huh?
Let’s hope the wishes of that insightful Harvard student might be integrated into the next choice we make as to who is worthy of being in the same category of Jackie Robinson.
Until next time…