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Wednesday, January 03, 2024

The New Campus Politics - The New York Times

The New Campus Politics

"The resignation of Harvard’s president shows how the Hamas attacks have scrambled campus politics.

A portrait of Harvard University President Claudine Gay looking off camera.
Claudine GayAdam Glanzman for The New York Times

You’re reading The Morning newsletter.  Make sense of the day’s news and ideas. David Leonhardt and Times journalists guide you through what’s happening — and why it matters.

For the third time in less than a year, the president of a top U.S. university has resigned under pressure. The details differ, but all three cases highlight the ways that the country’s political polarization is roiling elite campuses. These campuses are overwhelmingly liberal, among both professors and students, and have increasingly become targets of criticism from conservatives and some moderates.

In today’s newsletter, my colleagues and I will give you the latest news and help put it in context.

Yesterday’s resignation came from Claudine Gay, who stepped down after only six months as Harvard’s president. Gay initially survived her uneven response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas, including her personal apology for her congressional testimony last month, but she could not overcome continuing evidence of plagiarism in her earlier academic work. Conservative activists, like Christopher Rufo, and The New York Post, the tabloid run by the Murdoch family, helped document and publicize the plagiarism allegations. 

Gay’s resignation comes less than a month after Elizabeth Magill stepped down as president of the University of Pennsylvania, having served only a year and a half. Like Gay, Magill had apologized for her comments about free speech and genocide during last month’s congressional hearing.

The other of the three cases may seem unrelated: Last summer, Marc Tessier-Lavigne resigned as Stanford’s president after a university inquiry found that his earlier academic work contained errors — while also finding he personally had not committed the errors and clearing him of other allegations. Some conservatives have argued that Tessier-Lavigne might have survived if he hadn’t previously angered progressive professors on Covid, free speech and other issues.

The resignations of Gay and Magill show how the Hamas attacks have scrambled campus politics. Before Oct. 7, the political right was very weak at many universities. Presidents rarely put their standing at risk if they upset campus conservatives. At Harvard, only 17 percent of undergraduates identify as conservative, according to a survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. The share is 13 percent at Stanford and 9 percent at Penn.

But the slowness of some presidents to denounce the Oct. 7 attacks has led to widespread criticism, including from some moderates and liberals. Jewish groups have accused the universities of tolerating antisemitism in ways that they don’t tolerate other forms of bigotry. As my colleague Nicholas Confessore explained on a recent episode of “The Daily,” the responses to Oct. 7 expanded “the audience of people who might say there is something wrong at these places.”

(In a new article, Nicholas notes that conservative activists and liberal professors agree that Gay’s departure represents a victory for the political right in the escalating battle over American higher education.)

The resignations of Gay and Magill will not end any of these debates. Campuses remain progressive places, where students and professors will continue to criticize Israel. And they will continue to influence American politics and culture, as they have for decades. But the resignations have shown that university presidents are now navigating an even more complex environment than they were before.


The editorial board of The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, argued last week that Gay had committed plagiarism — but a sloppy version, in which she did not cite adequately the source of her words, rather than a dishonest version. Gay should remain as president, The Crimson wrote, adding that her loudest critics were “conservative activists intent on discrediting higher education.”

“What happened to Claudine Gay is a playbook they will follow again and again,” Natasha Alford of The Grio wrote, referring to Gay’s critics. “They will do whatever it takes to undermine, humiliate and unseat Black people in positions of power they don’t want there.”

In Gay’s resignation letter, she wrote that it had been “frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.”

“TWO DOWN”: Elise Stefanik, a House Republican who questioned Gay and Magill at the congressional hearing, claimed credit for their resignations.

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus wrote last month that Gay should resign because staying on would “send a bad signal to students about the gravity of her conduct.”

John McWhorter, a Columbia professor and Times Opinion writer, argued that the extent of Gay’s plagiarism, combined with her thin academic record for a Harvard president, merited her resignation.

Bret Stephens, a Times columnist, wrote that Harvard’s selection of Gay in 2022 represented higher education’s pivot away from intellectual excellence in favor of social justice.

More on the resignation

  • Before the resignation announcement, The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative news outlet, published more accusations of plagiarism yesterday.

  • Gay said she quit after “consultation” with members of Harvard’s governing board. The board had affirmed its support for her last month but said it had found “inadequate citation” in her work.

  • Gay was Harvard’s first Black president, and Black leaders — including Randall Kennedy, a Harvard legal scholar — expressed dismay at her downfall.

  • Alan Garber, an economist and physician who is the university’s chief academic officer, will serve as interim president.


Israel-Hamas War

  • An explosion in a Beirut suburb killed a top Hamas leader, Saleh al-Arouri, and two commanders. U.S. officials said Israel was responsible.

  • The assassinations heightened fears of a wider war in the region. Israel didn’t warn U.S. officials about the attack in advance, but briefed them as it was underway.

  • U.S. intelligence agencies believe Hamas and another Palestinian group used Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital to command their forces, store weapons and hold hostages.

  • Maersk, the Danish shipping company, said its vessels would stay away from the Red Sea, where the Houthi militia have attacked ships.

  • The Israeli government signaled that it would not immediately challenge the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down its divisive judicial overhaul.

  • The court’s ruling, like the war, will be crucial to Israel’s future and future identity, Steven Erlanger writes.


2024 Election


Other Big Stories


Snow-dependent traditions are becoming a thing of the past, Benjamin Moser writes.

The United States owes it to the people of Afghanistan to maintain a diplomatic presence there, Kathy Gannon writes.

Katherine Miller and Patrick Healy discuss the Iowa Republican caucus.

Contested ground: A disputed study declaring Indonesia home to the world’s oldest pyramid has prompted warnings about the dangers of nationalist mythmaking.

Decluttering dating: Overwhelmed by apps, profiles and not-quite-matches? Here’s how to start the year fresh.

Eyes on the sky: The Quadrantids meteor shower reaches its peak tonight. 

Lives Lived: Frank Ryan was a star quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in the 1960s. He also earned a doctorate in math, taught at Yale and brought computers to the House of Representatives. He died at 87.


Women’s basketball: Iowa defeated Michigan State, 76-73. Caitlin Clark, Iowa’s star guard, unleashed a buzzer-beating 3 to win the game. 

Allegations: Jimmy Kimmel threatened to sue the Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers for insinuating that he would be named in documents from the Jeffrey Epstein case.

N.F.L.: The league fined the Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper $300,000 for throwing a drink on a Jacksonville Jaguars fan during a game.

Soccer: The Spain star Jennifer Hermoso gave evidence in court against Luis Rubiales, the former federation boss who kissed her on the mouth after her team’s World Cup win. 


Dino debate: Five years ago in the hills of Montana, fossil hunters found the remains of a dinosaur that had many characteristics of a Tyrannosaurus rex — giant legs, small arms and a long tail. But this one was unusually small. The discovery has divided the world of paleontology: Was it a young T. rex, or a different species named Nanotyrannus?

More on culture


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Here is today’s Spelling Bee. Yesterday’s pangram was blowpipe.

And here are today’s Mini Crossword, Wordle, Sudoku and Connections.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Mike Rosenwald, who has written sparkling obituaries for The Washington Post, is joining The Times’s Obituaries desk.

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David Leonhardt writes The Morning, The Times’s flagship daily newsletter. He has previously been an Op-Ed columnist, Washington bureau chief, co-host of “The Argument” podcast, founding editor of The Upshot section and a staff writer for The Times Magazine. In 2011, he received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary. More about David Leonhardt"

The New Campus Politics - The New York Times

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