top of page

HBS Students Weigh in on Claudine Gay’s Resignation



Some feel vindicated and relieved, while others are frustrated and disappointed.


When Claudine Gay (PhD ’98) announced her resignation as President of Harvard University last month, almost no Harvard Business School students were on campus to discuss it. It was the middle of winter break, and many students were traveling, spending time with family, or prepping for job interviews. 


Several newspapers, including The Harvard Crimson and The Boston Globe, conducted student interviews over the course of the next week, mainly with undergrads walking across the Yard. Unsurprisingly, given the distance from the Allston campus and the mostly-traveling student population, MBA students were not quoted in any articles we could find.


By the time a critical mass had returned to campus at the end of January, Harvard and its former President were no longer front page news (though many major outlets were still publishing op-eds on adjacent topics). But the impact of Claudine Gay’s resignation will likely be felt by students and community members – even if just in small or subtle ways – for a long time. In the first few days back on campus, the Harbus collected thoughts and reflections via interviews, written statements, and an anonymous survey to better understand that impact at HBS, and to capture the sentiment on this side of the river.


Overall, reactions to Gay’s resignation were mixed. Some felt her decision to leave was a result of unfair targeting and lack of support from the Harvard community. Others believed it was a step in the right direction and should have happened sooner. Students who agreed that she should step down cited the congressional hearing, her silence following the initial Hamas attacks, plagiarism accusations, and a poor job of fostering dialogue on campus as reasons why. Those who wished she had stayed believed her demise was the result of several factors outside of her control, including racism and the outsized influence of wealthy donors.


Yuval Efrat (MBA ’25) met Gay at a dinner at Harvard Chabad following the October 7 attacks. “It’s always unfortunate for a president to leave in such a short time. She had good ideas and initiatives, but I’m happy she resigned.” Her biggest failure, according to Efrat, was how long she kept silent. “The President's public statement was made after a full weekend that felt like eternity for the Jewish and Israeli community, while world leaders had published their statements within hours of the terrorist attack. And then it was a neutral, mild statement. That is what led a lot of organizations to be unhappy with her.” He shared that at the Chabad dinner, several students had urged Gay to make a statement as soon as possible, and were disappointed when it still took time for anything to be released.


Another member of the class of 2025 agreed that Gay should have resigned, but took it a step further: “She shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place.” The student cited plagiarism and her lack of action that “made the university an unsafe place for Jews” as reasons why. 


Amit Botzer (MBA ’24) and Aliza Ohnouna (MBA ’24), co-presidents of the Jewish Students Association, shared that “opinions within the HBS Jewish community vary widely regarding the impact former President Gay's resignation will have on the rise in antisemitism across Harvard. But what most of us agree on is that Harvard’s future leadership must commit to doing the critical and hard work to make Jews feel safe on campus. We’re looking forward to supporting the progress that the Antisemitism Task Force makes in that regard.”


Students were torn on the plagiarism accusations. A member of the class of 2024 believed that “Claudine Gay failed as a leader,” with a main reason being “the integrity of her academic research.” One RC student felt that “leaders should be held accountable for actions that students are held accountable to,” specifically referencing her violation of Harvard plagiarism policy. “A student doing this would have led to him/her being suspended or expelled,” that student said. However, an EC student felt that “the plagiarism stuff was farcical,” and mentioned that it “was troubling to see some students blaming Claudine Gay alone for everything…and troubling to see students being delighted when the plagiarism accusations emerged.”

 

After the Harvard Corporation’s initial statement of support on December 12, many members of the HBS community were not expecting former President Gay to step down. Conrad Kaminski (MBA ’25) shared that he was “surprised” by Gay’s resignation, “given her recent inauguration, Harvard’s traditional presidential history, and the Harvard Corporation’s staunch support.” However, he felt that her “aloof commentary at the congressional hearing and evidence of plagiarism exposed her lack of credibility and capability to lead the Harvard institution.” 


Many students expressed disappointment in the Harvard Corporation and the Harvard institution more broadly. “This hurt my confidence in Harvard’s independence as an academic institution and made me feel ashamed that this school is bound and run by the whims of the donors and those in power – the exact opposite of what you want in an academic institution,” said one RC. An EC student felt that “the Harvard community did not truly support [Gay]…she was technically correct in her statements, and the Harvard code of conduct was not clear.” 


Some went even further. “I believe the way the Harvard Corporation set President Gay up to fail was abhorrent. She didn’t handle the hearing well, but she was never given the opportunity to prove herself. As the shortest tenure president in the school’s history, and first black female president, I feel that she was scapegoated in a culture war that Harvard should’ve avoided,” a member of the class of 2024 said. “I hope future presidents of the school aren’t pushed out due to political pressure.”


The influence wielded by donors at Harvard was generally viewed as outsized and disappointing. "Harvard should do better to thwart external influence by the likes of Bill Ackman and other financiers…there is no university in America that has a larger endowment than Harvard, yet we are still at the mercy of donors,” an EC said. Another student said that Gay’s “statements became increasingly dehumanizing of Arabs as a response to donor pressure.” A member of the class of 2024 agreed that “donors have too much power. The school is run by these people and they forced her out because she didn't silence pro-Palestinian voices enough.” 


Many students felt that Gay’s identity as a Black woman played a role in the mounting pressure for her to resign. “Anyone who says this isn’t about race hasn’t been paying attention,” David Burke (MBA ’25) wrote. Another student felt that her resignation has been “especially a hit for black women who are already seen as diversity hires.” 


One member of the class of 2025 was disappointed to see Gay resign, but understood that the “online abuse and verbal attacks” had become too much for her to bear. "Her tenure was short lived and is paving the way for racists to get their way,” the student said. “She should’ve stayed as president to show resilience and to show that she can do the job and people of color can be in those positions. I worry when the next POC president will be.” An EC student agreed, writing that “her resignation is a true loss for Harvard as well as a win for ‘anti-DEI’ conservatives.”


Regardless of where students stand, most agreed that the whole situation is unfortunate. “I think it is really unfortunate that she felt like she needed to resign and that the Harvard community did not truly support her as they said they did,” wrote an EC student.  “President Gay's resignation was an unfortunate event...ultimately, I think she didn't respond in the way that was needed. She was becoming the source of a lot of ideologically-driven opposition and even hatred, so it's perhaps best that she stepped down,” Tuneer De (MBA ’25) shared. 


When it comes to Claudine Gay’s resignation, strong opinions abound among HBS students – or at least those willing to comment for this article. 


Rory Finnegan (MBA ’24) has been an avid reader and writer all her life. She pursued these interests all the way through college, graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in poetry writing. After taking a couple years off from her literary passions to work at McKinsey & Company, Rory has been delighted to pick up the pen again by writing for the Harbus.

262 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment


Powerful to see the groups that actually feel marginalized, silenced, and unsafe shine in this article. Who made anonymous vs attributable comments? An impossible task to speak freely against money & power.

Like
bottom of page