OpinionOpinion Features

Everything Wrong with Claudine Gay’s Op-Ed

Michael ‘MJ’ King
Staff Writer

On October 8th, a coalition of 30 Harvard student groups cosigned a letter blaming the Israeli government for starting the war in Palestine. The letter received intense backlash from donors and alums, who demanded Harvard President Claudine Gay address the letter. In a statement, President Gay called for “an environment of dialogue and empathy” among rising tensions. 2 days later, on October 10th, many of the original cosigners rescinded their letter endorsement, and President Gay issued a statement condemning Hamas’s attacks. In late November, the federal government and the U.S. Education Department announced investigations into allegations of antisemitism across college campuses, which led us to the complete clown show that was the congressional hearings. Claudine Gay, who, when asked if anti-Semitic rhetoric was a violation of Harvard’s DEI policies, infamously responded with, “It can be, depending on the context.” So, if you’re trying not to show what Harvard is doing about anti-Semitic protests like Claudine Gay stated, good job. Now, after these remarks, it is safe to say Harvard’s PR department, and likely Claudine Gay’s lawyer, had a bit of a meltdown trying to explain what in the world she just said. Despite mostly empty post-hawk statements, a month later, on January 2nd, Claudine Gay resigned as President of Harvard.

The renowned, Cambridge-based institution has lost some well-known donors over this controversy (Photo Courtesy of Forbes)

On January 3rd, a day after Harvard President Claudine’s Gay resignation, she authored a New York Times Op-Ed. The article starts with Gay explaining to the audience that she and the institution she’s dedicated her life to have been attacked. Which is obvious considering that her “institution’s” policies have utterly failed in condoning hate speech on both sides under her leadership. The “excellence, openness, independence, truth” ideals haven’t precisely been followed here. Unless, of course, student groups calling for the genocide of one another is what we as a society collectively consider fostering “openness and excellence.” As we know, step 1 in a good apology is taking accountability for your mistakes. Unfortunately, six sentences in, we still have nothing about the colossal mistakes made during the final months of her presidency, and instead, her complaining about being called racial slurs. Now, I am not endorsing or supporting anyone who calls someone they’ve never met a terrible racial slur just because they don’t like the way she conducted business. However, if this were a legal trial, we’d shout from the rafters, “Objection! relevance!” Whether her statement is true or not doesn’t matter because the only real goal of the statement is to gather up the shattered remains of her reputation and reconstruct the remaining pieces to position herself as some sort of martyr. I mean, the title of this article is literally, “What Just Happened at Harvard Is Bigger Than Me.” It also promotes a fatally flawed victim mentality, which is the root of Claudine Gay’s inability to learn from mistakes. Those with a victim mentality are already far behind those without. When they interact with failure, their first thought is to look at themselves and think about how they can improve and get better. Gay, on the other hand, appears to believe that everything from her skin color to the congressional “traps” laid out is more of a critical talking point than her indecisive action.

Moving on, Claudine Gay then explains that she is stepping down to allow basically anyone else who thinks it’s a good idea to ensure that calls for genocide are appropriately disciplined to take over. No, wait a minute, she’s stepping down to “deny demagogues the opportunity to further weaponize my presidency in their campaign to undermine the ideals animating Harvard.” What? Forget about other people, or “demagogues,” as you call them. What about your own presidency? You know, the one that “[undermined] the ideals of Harvard.” Claudine Gay then describes how the attack on her presidency is targeted to undermine trusted institutions. Who exactly these “skirmishers” are and why they’re trying to undermine academia is not discussed, but I imagine she’s referring to all those congressional members who were trying to figure out why calls for genocide on campus weren’t properly dealt with.

She then discusses how these attacks are launched against so-called trusted institutions, such as news organizations and research institutions. On the surface, this statement is puzzling, considering the fact that it ignores the increased partisan polarization and media bias that have resulted in an all-time low public trust in the news. According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans believe the news intentionally misleads the public.

As for research centers, they should always be questioned; that’s the point of science in general. If we stopped questioning research and “academic consensus,” then the entire process of science and discovery would stop because we’d accept everything as the absolute truth. Additionally, it echos her later description of the congressional hearings’ line of questioning as a “well-layered trap.” Claudine later goes on to at least acknowledge her faulty testimony and seriously underperforming actions to curb anti-Semitic protests, but this is all under the guise of recontextualizing the situation to make it look like she was dealt a bad hand and played it poorly. If the former Harvard President had done her job and adhered to her own institution’s DEI policies, then she wouldn’t have been sitting before Congress in the first place. Taking a half-hearted partial responsibility is not taking full responsibility, and it’s certainly not the kind of method of thought that leads to actual learning.

After defending her research studies (which aren’t really relevant to this article, so we’ll be skipping over them), I wanted to tackle the final section of her Op-Ed about how universities are not spaces “where proxy battles and political grandstanding take root.” This argument ignores the realities of college campuses for several erroneous reasons. Firstly, due to DEI policies and curriculum and a general attitude among academic circles to create more liberal and progressive thought. According to the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), During the late 1980s and early 1990s, 42% of college faculty across the United States identified themselves as liberal. In 2016, HERI conducted the same survey, finding that number to have jumped to 60%. College institutions, faculty, and professors lean overwhelmingly to the left on the political spectrum, automatically limiting any “political grandstanding” from not taking root. According to research by The Harvard Crimson, Claudine Gay’s institute, Harvard, 82% of all faculty considered themselves either liberal or very liberal. The study makes sense, as Universities generally study the failures of current systems to improve them and, in doing so, cannot shy away from politics.

Now, this is not some conservative-fueled rant about the “progressive hivemind corrupting our institutions” or whatever; this is simply an observation of the reality of college campuses. The direct result of one group (left or right) having hegemony in academia limits the ability for vigorous debate and the opportunity for students to question and challenge ideas is slowly suffocated under the boot of the majority consensus. In other words, the basic mechanics of tribalism and groupthink that can suppress a minority opinion, all things Claudine Gay herself should understand with her decades of research into race and identity in American politics. Op-eds are essentially self-commentaries of the author, and when the readers stand back and look at Gay’s piece, they are left wondering what exactly the point of this was aside from her trying to save face and make herself out to be a martyr. Imagine being a potential candidate for the Harvard Presidency and attempting to learn Harvard President 101; what exactly is taken away from Gay’s Op-ed, other than racism bad, plagiarism bad, questioning trusted sources bad? More importantly, on the meager chance that Claudine Gay herself reads this article, I ask you what you have learned from these past few months.

Contact MJ at michael.king2@student.shu.edu

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