In studying the Harvard Board’s actions when it comes to hiring and not firing presidents of their institution, the old adage of warning comes to mind, “Would you buy a used car from this person?”
Let’s run down the checklist of the Board’s missteps:
- Claudine Gay did not have the depth of experience in management or leadership that is necessary to be an effective university president. Lawyers prepped her for her testimony. You can’t toss out legal mumbo jumbo when your students are chanting “From the River to the sea” stuff about eliminating Jews. Genocide cannot be washed away by claiming the cleansing of the “First Amendment.” Harvard ranked dead last in a survey on campus freedom of expression. Harvard has spent years banishing speakers and rescinding admission offers for what it deemed offensive speech. Dr. Gay spent weeks trying to clarify her testimony and only made more mumbo jumbo. Rookie mistakes.
- The Board did a lousy job of vetting Dr. Gay. The background check did not pick up the plagiarism (and just an online search could have done that, which is why Christopher Rufo wrote about the issue just five days after Dr. Gay’s testimony before Congress). Even without that issue, there was the sheer unremarkable and pedestrian qualities of her dissertation and other work. Her scholarship did not move the needle in her field. To quote Carol M. Swain, whose work Dr. Gay plagiarized, “Ms. Gay was able to parlay mediocre research into tenure and administrative advancement at what was once considered a world-class university.” Carol M. Swain, “Claudine Gay and My Scholarship,” Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2023, p. A15.
- The Board did not spend enough time investigating or offering transparency for previous complaints about Dr. Gay’s plagiarism (in October 2023 –two months prior to her testimony). The Board was quick to sniff at those charges as well as the post-testimony disclosures. The arrogance is stunning. But boards that dismiss allegations too quickly pay the price. See Barclay’s board and Jes Staley. See McDonald’s board and Steve Easterbrook. Neither CEOs nor boards can ride out misconduct. More just keeps a’comin’.
- The Board was more focused on DEI than credentials. First woman to be a Harvard president (pardon the use of the term “woman”). Harvard’s first black leader. Now firing her would be an embarrassing admission of a lesser standard for the pedigrees required of minority candidates.
- The inconsistency of the Board in upholding stated Harvard standards is stunning. Imagine what students are thinking, “All I have to do is put quotes around my whole assignment and I am in the clear for lifting it.” There’s an arrogance in the inconsistency too, “We are Harvard. We don’t care. We don’t have to because we are Harvard.” Until the boycotts come. From potential employers. From bright students choosing to go elsewhere. As one Harvard faculty member noted, this is an inflection point. One wonders if the Board understands that.