Harvard faculty and alumni show support for president Claudine Gay after her House testimony on antisemitism

Harvard faculty members and alumni voiced their support for the university’s president, Claudine Gay, in the wake of her controversial House testimony last week about antisemitism on college campuses. 

Harvard faculty members submitted a letter to the Harvard Corporation, which oversees the institution’s academic and financial resources, opposing calls to remove Gay. The petition, which has over 700 signatures, urges the university “in the strongest possible terms to defend the independence of the university and to resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom.”

Gay testified before a House committee on Dec. 5 alongside University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth. The three university leaders were called to explain and defend their approaches to heated protests on college campuses related to the Israel-Hamas war. 

All three were accused of not being strong enough in opposing antisemitism and were rebuked by Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican of New York, for failing to clearly state whether calling for genocide against Jews would violate university policies.

University Presidents Testify In House Hearing On Campus Antisemitism
Harvard University President Claudine Gay, at left, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee on Dec. 5, 2023.

Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

The executive committee of the Harvard Alumni Association released a letter Monday expressing “unanimous and unequivocal” support for Gay.

“President Gay is the right leader to guide the University during this challenging time. She is thoughtful. She is kind,” the letter reads, adding, “We recognize that there was disappointment in her testimony this past week. President Gay has pointed this out and apologized for any pain her testimony caused — a powerful demonstration of her integrity, determination, and courage.”

Gay, who last December became the first Black president in Harvard’s 386-year history, also garnered the support of Black Harvard faculty members. A separate letter signed by more than 80 Black faculty members objects to “aspersions that have been cast on her character.”

“The suggestion that she would not stand boldly against manifestations of antisemitism and any suggestion that her selection as president was the result of a process that elevated an unqualified person based on considerations of race and gender are specious and politically motivated,” the letter reads.

Over 770 Black Harvard alumni and allies added to the outpouring of support for Gay, writing in a letter posted on social media Monday that her commitment to free speech is critical “at a time when the banning of books is occurring across our nation and lawmakers are enshrining laws that curtail the teaching of American history.”

Gay’s congressional testimony did receive criticism from some Harvard students and faculty, with one university professor writing on social media that Gay’s “hesitant, formulaic, and bizarrely evasive answers were deeply troubling to me and many of my colleagues, students, and friends.”

Following the contentious panel, the House committee announced it would be conducting an investigation into Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania, among other institutions.

Magill resigned as president of the University of Pennsylvania on Saturday following the backlash related to her testimony. She will remain at the university as a tenured professor of law.

Nikole Killion contributed reporting.

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