The Harvard President Resigns
My Garmin golf watch is synced to my phone and it exploded at around 1:30 PM Eastern Standard Time while I was visiting Jacksonville, Florida on January 2. CNN, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal all headlined the fact that Dr. Claudine Gay, the fairly newly installed (July 2023) president of Harvard was resigning. She does so in a storm of controversy that began with her testimony on Capitol Hill where she would not explicitly say that the call for Jewish genocide breaks Harvard’s code of conduct. Note that no one really explicitly called for said genocide but rather it was felt by many that the calls of “from the river to the sea” implied the elimination of Israel and the Jewish people. Nonetheless, a smart person when confronted by a right-wing Congresswoman like Elise Stefanik would have said such speech was unacceptable. What Dr. Gay said was that it depended on the context. Jewish genocide does not depend on the context.
Now it has also come to light that Dr. Gay may well have plagiarized, or at least insufficiently attributed, parts of her PhD thesis and done so in papers she has published. This latest offense is something Harvard will have to resolve with a research misconduct inquiry.
I am not going to debate whether or not Dr. Gay should have resigned. To my mind the Harvard Corporation should have fired her. I suspect that’s what really happened anyway. She had become a lightning rod and an embarrassment. That she was a lightning rod was of her own doing. In essence, she represented everything that “woke” and DEI stands for and thus became the focus of the wrath of right wing and MAGA America.
That she was an embarrassment can be traced back to her selection in the first place. On so many levels she was not the right choice; she was not ready for prime time; she did not have the credentials. I find this becoming a more common situation of late—leaders who should not have their jobs simply because they do not qualify for them by experience, intelligence, or street smarts (sachel in Yiddish).
Let’s start with the obvious-the current President of the United States who was once described to me by a Washington insider as not very bright. Even if he once was on the ball, and I have my doubts after the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearing, he has slipped a few rungs down the ladder in the last few years. Unlike Dr. Gay, he doesn’t have the sense to resign.
Then there is the current Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson. Why should he be the leader of the GOP in the House? Does he have the stature of, say, Nancy Pelosi? Even if you hated Pelosi, you could not argue with her gravitas. The George McFly look alike cannot really lead the herd of mountain lions that is the House Republicans.
Finally, there is the beloved president of MD Anderson who has absolutely no research credentials whatsoever and cannot articulate his plans for the research institution other than to have physicians work harder and make more money. This he hopes will boost MD Anderson’s ranking in various lay polls of no meaning. Dr. Pisters also views the faculty as nothing special, just employees. That faculty is his and MD Anderson’s greatest asset. He should treat the faculty as such and he does not. That is a sure sign of his being out of touch with reality.
It is certainly true that some people placed in positions of responsibility at what seems like a premature moment grow into the job. Mike Krzyzewski, the former head coach of the Duke basketball team was such a person losing many games in his early career at Duke, then finally putting his own great teams on the floor to win five national titles. Usually, however, it is best to select leaders who both can learn and bring experience to the job. Harvard is reported to have had 600 candidates for the president’s job. There is no way Dr. Gay was the most qualified.
DEI and wokeness have dominated higher education in recent years. We now know what it begets. Let’s get back to a true merit-based system where race, gender, and national origin truly are of no consequence and let the best man or woman win.
We need to get back to leaders with vision and will and the sense to say genocide is bad. That question from the congresswoman really wasn’t so hard.