In her parting shot at Harvard, newly resigned president Claudine Gay has provided a reminder of why she never should have been made president in the first place. Gay stepped down today following months of turmoil caused by her reaction to the Hamas October 7 terror attacks on Israel and by accusations of plagiarism.
Gay got her job because of her race. No white professor, even a female one, would have been elevated to the premier college presidency in the United States on so meager a research record. It is fitting, then, that Gay plays the race card to the end. She lauds her abortive presidency as giving hope to those around the world who saw in it a “vision of Harvard that affirmed their sense of belonging.” In other words, without a black president, students “of color” would not be certain of belonging at Harvard. Never mind that for decades Harvard has so enthusiastically sought out black students that it admitted many of them with academic credentials that would have been all but disqualifying if presented by whites and Asians. Now, without a black president, that vision is apparently threatened, even as Gay concedes that Harvard’s “doors remain open.”
Gay’s sense of self-worth is breathtaking. She already has a legacy in mind for her five-month long presidency, the shortest in Harvard’s history. She hopes that her tenure is remembered “as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity.” Before her presidency, in other words, Harvard was deficient in the striving-for-common-humanity department. Never mind that Gay had auditioned for the presidency with a call to infuse the hunt for racism throughout every corner of the university, an academic agenda based on the idea that America remains a perennially white supremacist country. As president, she was true to her word, introducing what the Corporation euphemistically calls “ambitious new academic initiatives” in “inequality.”
The mission of a university, however, is the transmission of a civilizational inheritance and the testing of new knowledge. The goal of “finding a common humanity” (or, even worse, of combatting “bias and hate,” as Gay also puts it) serves as a pretext for the therapeutic diversity infrastructure.
There is no indication from either the Gay resignation letter or the Harvard Corporation follow-up that the university is moving away from identity-based scholarship, hiring, and admissions. The Harvard Corporation asserts that Harvard’s core values are “excellence, inclusiveness, and free inquiry and expression.” That latter item—free inquiry and expression—can be ignored. It is so far from the truth that it means nothing. Harvard has tolerated a reign of academic conformity and the informal silencing of intellectual dissent. Its left-wing leaders, including the Harvard Corporation, remain blind to their own hypocrisy regarding free speech, since they apparently do not believe in the legitimacy of non-dogmatic views on race, sex, or personal responsibility.
But the Corporation’s reassertion of its commitment to “inclusiveness” is an important marker of the future. The term is particularly charged following the Supreme Court’s ruling this summer invalidating racial preferences in college admissions. When the decision came down, then-president Lawrence Bacow signaled that Harvard would do everything it could to retain its regime of “inclusiveness.” Its subsequent actions have only confirmed that intent. At present, “excellence” and “inclusiveness” (as the latter is currently defined) are mutually exclusive. Thanks to the academic skills gap, a university can be meritocratically excellent or it can be demographically inclusive. It cannot be both. That is why inclusiveness must be affirmed as a separate value from excellence. In a meritocratic world, the only values a university would care about including are those pertaining to academic achievement.
If the Harvard Corporation had learned anything from the Gay debacle, it would have left out that coded rhetoric of “inclusiveness.” Unless the board itself undergoes a revolution, nothing at Harvard will change.