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Larry Lindsey

President & CEO, The Lindsey Group

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Opinion

Claudine Gay, Harvard have lost sight of academic values

Jan 15

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Claudine Gay resigned from her position as Harvard University president following a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism and heavy criticism from Harvard alumni in the wake of the testimony. Gay’s resignation completed a tumultuous year for the historic university, which found itself in the center of various public debates throughout 2023, including the debate on affirmative action and race-based admissions quotas.

Straight Arrow News contributor Larry Lindsey summarizes the role of an ideal university president, and then contrasts that ideal with Gay’s actions and behaviors. Lindsey contends that Gay’s resignation was the natural result of her incompetence, and argues that Harvard itself has lost sight of its core academic values.

Not only that, the university, under this board and under President Gay and her predecessor, have moved away from merit as the basis for admissions, towards what are essentially racial quotas. The quotas were so explicit that the Supreme Court found that they discriminated, and had to end the discrimination, and that suit was against Asians.

But it’s also widespread that other groups were discriminated against, in particular Jews. Jewish admission had averaged about 20%. Now it is down to 5%. The merit-based distribution in society hasn’t changed. It was just that Jews and Asians who had higher SAT scores were excluded in order to admit other, more favored groups of individuals.

Not only that, the university really has no conservative professors. That wasn’t always true. In the mid-20th century, for example, some very famous and leading academics were from the conservative side of the spectrum, were prominent Harvard professors. They include Joseph Schumpeter, Harvey Mansfield, who was a history professor, and of course Henry Kissinger, who was plucked from Harvard by Richard Nixon to be secretary of state.

Today, 98% of all political contributions by members of the Harvard community go to Democrats. 98%! It’s hard to imagine that, there really is no intellectual diversity anymore at Harvard. And there used to be diversity of thought, probably the most important kind of diversity that any university can have, that supposedly is what they’re in the business of.

Well, this lack of intellectual diversity, the nature of the board, and Ms. Gay’s incompetence, all combined to not only exclude her, but should suggest to Harvard that they change their ways. After all, a university is supposed to stand for intellectual merit and academic freedom. Harvard does not.

I’m sure most of you know that Claudine Gay resigned as President of Harvard University. It was a rather long, controversial process to get there. She had the support of the Harvard board, but then they had to withdraw it, because accusations kept piling up. Now, Ms. Gay herself blames personal attacks and racism for what happened. But I think the story is really one of competence and professionalism.

 

First of all, what is a university president supposed to do? Well, first and foremost, they are the face of the university. And President Gay, or then-President Gay, represented the university before Congress. Universally, it was view that she did a terrible job.

 

The second is to keep donors happy. It’s kind of funny, but the real business of Harvard University is keeping its $40 billion dollar endowment growing. That requires that alumni keep the money flowing.

 

Finally, she’s CEO of the university, which means managing and organizing the place in context of principles that the college has, as well as the development, both physical and intellectual, at the university.

 

Now, let’s start with a congressional hearing. Frankly, the nice word you could say is that she couldn’t read the room. She hemmed and hawed, refused to condemn the antisemitism that had become rampant at Harvard, dodged questions. It’s okay to dodge questions at congressional hearings, you just can’t look like [it], and I guess that’s what it was, and she looked like it. The donors became very unhappy, both with the anti-Israel protests at Harvard, which were widespread and involved intimidation of Jewish students, and with her bad performance at the congressional hearing. As CEO, she didn’t protect free expression. She let basically mobs determine what was said at Harvard.

 

And the nail in the coffin was widespread accusations of plagiarism. Gay did not just copy a sentence here and a sentence there. She lifted whole paragraphs from other papers, not just one paragraph, but several in a row. It is incompetence, not racism, that was the cause of Claudine Gay’s departure.

 

Then there’s the problem with the university itself, it has an interesting governance structure. It has a 12-member board of directors, which is self-appointed. Let’s get this clear. When someone leaves the board, the rest of the board picks the replacement. It is self-perpetuating. It has been that way since the university was founded, and it’s actually protected in the Massachusetts State Constitution. That makes it almost invulnerable to the outside world.

 

Now, I’m all for university independence. But most other schools have their boards elected by alumni, or at least part of the board elected by alumni. Harvard, I think, is probably unique in having nothing more than a self-perpetuating governance structure. Not only that, the university, under this board and under President Gay and her predecessor, have moved away from merit as the basis for admissions, towards what are essentially racial quotas. The quotas were so explicit that the Supreme Court found that they discriminated, and had to end the discrimination, and that suit was against Asians.

 

But it’s also widespread that other groups were discriminated against, in particular Jews. Jewish admission had averaged about 20%. Now it is down to 5%. The merit-based distribution in society hasn’t changed. It was just that Jews and Asians who had higher SAT scores were excluded in order to admit other, more favored groups of individuals. Not only that, the university really has no conservative professors. That wasn’t always true. In the mid-20th century, for example, some very famous and leading academics were from the conservative side of the spectrum, were prominent Harvard professors. They include Joseph Schumpeter, Harvey Mansfield, who was a history professor, and of course Henry Kissinger, who was plucked from Harvard by Richard Nixon to be Secretary of State.

 

Today 98% of all political contributions by members of the Harvard community go to Democrats. 98%! It’s hard to imagine that, there really is no intellectual diversity anymore at Harvard. And there used to be diversity of thought, probably the most important kind of diversity that any university can have, that supposedly is what they’re in the business of. Well, this lack of intellectual diversity, the nature of the board, and Ms. Gay’s incompetence, all combined to not only exclude her, but should suggest to Harvard that they change their ways. After all, a university is supposed to stand for intellectual merit and academic freedom. Harvard does not. This is Larry Lindsey for Straight Arrow News.

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