A few things can be true. Former Harvard president Claudine Gay was not the most qualified candidate for the job, but her race, gender and devotion to DEI trumped the quality and quantity of her scholarship. The targeting of Gay and the scrutiny of her scholarship following her poor and flagrantly hypocritical response under questioning be Rep. Elise Stefanik were a result of her devotion to DEI, which implicates, to a significant extent, her race and gender. It’s not necessarily false to say she didn’t deserve the post and was a serious serial plagiarist, but it’s also not necessarily false to say that she was targeted for her DEI positions.
When she refused to resign like Penn President Liz Magill, she essentially told her detractors, “make me.” They did.
Not too long ago, this could not have happened. Not only was DEI beloved by the progressive elites of Harvard, et al., but you could not attack a woman, a black person and especially a black woman, regardless of what she did and whether it was deserved. There was a cloak of immunity that protected them from criticism and challenge simply because of their characteristics. Remember when you could not use the word “unhinged” in reference to a woman because men historically called women crazy to dominate them. It wasn’t because women couldn’t be unhinged, but that there was a new immunity that ruled the pseudo-intellectuals.
Perhaps the most interesting thing coming out of the Tragedy of Darth Plagiarist is that Claudine Gay, a black woman, can be taken to task for her actions. No more will her race or gender immunize her from consequences, much as Ibram Kendi insists otherwise.
Claudine Gay is now the shortest-serving Harvard University president in history. To recap: after hesitating to condemn Hamas freedom fighters after October 7, she then stumbled during a congressional hearing when Rep. Elise Stefanik asked her if calling for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s student conduct rules. As The New York Times put it: “she fell into something of a prosecutorial trap”! Ah, it was so clever, the question so complicated. Then someone thought to read her old work, and it turns out she plagiarized dozens of times, quite egregiously (my favorite was plagiarizing someone else’s acknowledgements section). Still, Harvard’s board stood behind her. They had already sicced high-powered lawyers on journalists, threatening to sue The New York Post for reporting on the plagiarism. (Harvard’s lawyers advanced a strange theory to the Post that it was all made up by ChatGPT.) But the drumbeat was too loud. And in what is and will forever be the biggest news of 2024, no matter how many world wars start: Claudine Gay resigned.
Gay, for her part, refused to apologize. Her resignation letter blamed it all on “racial animus.” Her inevitable Times op-ed repeated the idea that she had fallen into “a well-laid trap” and doubled down on her own “broadly respected research.” No notes, Mrs. President. Never explain, never apologize!
As before, I demur on the question of whether and to what extent her scholarship was problematic. But it is worthy of note that what happened with, and to, Claudine Gay is that she will no longer be shielded from the consequences of her words and deeds based upon the irrelevant characteristics of race and gender. She is being treated like a person, like any person, for better or worse.
Yes, women can be unhinged and black women can plagiarize. So can men and white men. And brown, taupe and purple, with or without genitalia. Wasn’t that always the point of ending discrimination, that we were all to be judged by the same metric and not to be cloaked in immunity for our skin color, whether white, black or brown, or our gender (the list here is far too long to mention)?
The resignation of Claudine Gay may well be one of those moment in the history of discrimination where we overcame the simplistic notion that some races and genders got a free pass for their actions based upon the color of their skin rather than the content of their scholarship. If we are to progress beyond our racist history and our racist “fix” of our racist history, then this is a critically important step in achieving a society where race and gender are behind us.