The Deep Meaning of Claudine Gay [Updated]

Harvard University has circled the wagons around President Claudine Gay, reportedly encouraged to do so by no less than Barack Obama. This despite the fact that Gay not only embarrassed the university with her inept and tone-deaf Congressional testimony, but has also been exposed as a serial plagiarist. And not only does the university seem unworried by Gay’s plagiarism, it has emerged that Harvard exonerated Gay before conducting a secret investigation that did not follow Harvard’s usual protocols–all while threatening the New York Post with a lawsuit to try to keep the story quiet.

What accounts for this extraordinary loyalty to President Gay?

In the Post, which has driven much of the Gay coverage, Benjamin Weingarten undertakes to explain why Obama thought the matter was important enough to weigh in on:

Like l’affaire Gay broadly, Obama’s intervention should be seen as a major salvo in the broader war over diversity, equity and inclusion in America’s most influential institutions.

Obama is making a play to protect the DEI regime itself — a regime, already roiled by the backlash against wokeism and the Supreme Court’s strike against affirmative action in schools, critical to maintaining political power.
Claudine Gay, proudly touted as Harvard’s first black and second female president, has devoted much of her career to advancing DEI and led the creation of a sprawling DEI administrative state, injecting racist “anti-racism” and anti-equality “equity” into every aspect of the school.

This parallels what Obama’s progressive successors have done to the federal government under the Biden administration.
If Claudine Gay were to fall, it could topple the entire house of cards the left, led by Barack Obama, helped build.

To fire her would be to acknowledge the evil hatred of the West at DEI’s core; admit DEI elevates politics over merit, given Gay has proven to be something of an academic fraud; and therefore delegitimize the movement as a whole given Gay’s and Harvard’s symbolic and substantive prominence in it.

I think that is right, and I would add more regarding Harvard’s interests specifically. If you read Gay’s writings and transcripts of her speeches, she has made her purpose plain. Her mission, as she sees it, is to transform Harvard from an intellectual institution into an activist organization. She means for Harvard to be retooled as an explicit engine of left-wing change. And the Harvard Corporation is on board with this change. In fact, it is the very reason why Gay was hired as president.

Gay, unlike prior Harvard presidents, is not a distinguished scholar. She has published only a handful of insignificant and unoriginal articles, and is of little note as an academic. This is why her plagiarism is not much of a concern to Harvard’s management. They didn’t hire Gay to be a scholar, they hired her to be an activist. They believe, I think, that firing Gay would not just be admitting a personnel mistake. Rather, it would be seen as turning back on their commitment to replace intellectual inquiry with activism. They are dedicated to that transformation, and therefore will keep Gay on board long past the point where prudence would seem to dictate that they cut her loose.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has a good summary of how Harvard got into its present predicament, headlined “As Pressure on Harvard President Increases, University Board Feels the Squeeze.”

In the wake of calls for the resignation of Harvard President Claudine Gay, a growing number of faculty members are turning their focus to the other 11 members of the powerful governing board that runs the school.

Some faculty are calling for members of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s board, to resign or apologize and one professor has even floated to the governor of Massachusetts a new governance structure for the school that would give lawmakers the chance to appoint a board member to represent the public interest.

Bill Ackman, the activist investor who has led criticism of Gay’s Congressional performance and the university’s tendency toward anti-Semitism, thinks he has a scoop. Let’s hope he is right:

The real question is not so much who occupies the president’s office, as it is the desire on the part of the Harvard Corporation, representing powerful forces within the institution, to transform Harvard into an activist organization–in effect, an arm of the left wing of the Democratic Party. If the Corporation does give Gay the boot, there is no shortage of DEI maniacs who could replace her. Will that happen, or will those who want Harvard to continue as a respected, if deeply flawed, intellectual institution–a group that no doubt includes many professors–be able to use the opportunity to blunt the Corporation’s intended transformation? That, I think, is the real issue. And perhaps nothing will weaken the Corporation’s hand as much as the fact that applications for early admission are reportedly down by 17%.

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