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Harvard University and American higher education are sick. People like now-former university President Claudine Gay and those pro-Hamas university students bellowing in the streets aren’t the cause of the sickness, so firing and expelling them won’t cure it. They are merely symptoms of a rot that’s been spreading for decades.
When Gay became the first Black, female president of America’s oldest college in July, her appointment was hailed by left-wing allies as a great leap forward for equity and inclusion. Harvard released a smooth commercial where she promised a “reckoning,” or settling of scores, for Harvard’s past racial sins.
Her first problems began this fall, when large groups of her students erupted in favor Hamas’ mass murder and rape of Israelis. Her problems got worse in December, when she doubled down in defense of anti-Jewish hate in testimony before Congress. While the Harvard Corporation stood behind her, donors fled and examples of plagiarism stacked up across her fairly limited academic career. She’s finally gone, replaced by a low-key Jewish professor, but not before she released a statement accusing her critics of racism. She refused to go quietly, and the problems that made her president in the first place won’t go quietly either–nor nearly as easily.
While it’s worthwhile to cheer the demotion of a race huckster and plagiarist, it’s important to remember she was the shortest-serving president in the school’s history, so rather than the cause of Harvard’s decay, she’s merely another symptom. Chosen from a process involving more than 600 nominees and 20 committees, Gay hadn’t distinguished herself by virtue of her prolific career: She’d published relatively few peer-reviewed papers. Those she had published, however, took left-wing opinions on racial questions. When combined with her sex and race, she was the perfect candidate for an identity-politics-obsessed university.
The political part is crucial, because while being Black checks an important boxes on Harvard’s criterium for excellence, it’s certainly not enough. Take the case of Roland Fryer, a black economist and the second-youngest Harvard faculty member to ever receive tenure. Freyer angered the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) crowd when his work poked holes in claims of systemic racism in policing and other areas.
Later, when a secretary he fired claimed he had made inappropriate jokes, an administrative board recommended he attend sensitivity training. When a committee including Gay got ahold of the recommendation, however, they rejected it, closing Freyer’s lab and suspending him for two years without pay.
Fryer was a promising academic from a hard-scrabble upbringing. His mother fled his father’s abuse when he was just four years old. Later on, his father was convicted and imprisoned for rape, leaving Freyer to make his own way, which he did by way of a sports scholarship to University of Texas, Austin.
By contrast, Gay’s parents sent her to an elite New England boarding school and then Princeton. When Fryer faced accusations of misconduct, he was nearly fired. When Gay was accused of serial plagiarism last fall, Harvard suppressed the claims and threatened to sue the newspaper that brought it to their attention. Harvard’s commitment to lifting up marginalized voices was skin deep, it turns out – and dictated by liberal politics, not truth.
In her parting statement, Gay wrote that she hopes people see the Phillips Exeter Academy, Princeton and Stanford graduate’s brief tenure as proof of Harvard’s dedication to uplifting people “from every background imaginable,” at least so long as they have the right skin color and opinions.
Despite early-acceptance applications declining 17 percent this fall, major donor defections, and a tenure that exposed the school to relentless negative publicity, she’s not even been fired; instead, she’s returning to teaching. Nor have there been any resignations from the board that runs the Harvard Corporation. There’s no real accountability here. There’s no real effort to address the cancer.
Claudine Gay didn’t become president of Harvard University because the school likes plagiarism, nor did she keep a job there because the corporation loves bad publicity, lost donations, and declining applications. Similarly, the students in the streets of Cambridge shouting support for terrorists slaughtering Jews aren’t the products of Hamas infiltrating the Harvard faculty to quietly spread its propaganda. Rather, both these things are symptoms of the identity politics/DEI rot deeply embedded in our universities.
A series of scandals for Harvard have been a great thing for the American people. They have drawn attention to the stunning mediocrity of our elites, as well as the moral rot they’re teaching their chosen successors. A title change for Gay and a few student punishments aren’t going to solve this. The American people have heaped honor on our top universities for years longer than they’ve deserved, while they in turn have accredited new classes of elites to further spread their rotten ideas.
When Harvard was founded in 1636, it had a great future ahead, which it spent crafting the best young people the country had to offer. Today, its leaders and students are more synonymous with decline than greatness. There are good ideas afoot amongst some of the faculty to fix this problem, but it will take hard work and will make powerful enemies.
A demotion and a few club suspensions are well and good, but a true cure will take treating the root cause. So far, we’ve not seen it.