Dr. Claudine Gay made history on December 17, 2022 when it was announced that she was appointed the 30th President of Harvard University. She begins her tenure on July 1, 2023 becoming the first Black president in Harvard’s nearly 400 year history. Dr. Gay had been serving as the Dean of the Edgerley Family Division of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. Born in the Bronx, New York, she is the daughter of Haitian immigrants who met as students studying in the United States. Her mother became a registered nurse, and her father, an engineer.
In her teen years, Gay matriculated at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, graduating in 1988. Gay earned her Ph.D. in government from Harvard and later taught in that department as well as in Africana Studies. As Dean, Gay achieved a reputation for being a visionary and innovative leader, and those qualities served her well when she applied for Harvard’s presidency. She attained her new position in a competitive search with over 600 applicants.
At the time of her appointment Dr. Gay was fifty-two years of age. She was born in the Bronx, New York, on August 4, 1970 but spent spent an early part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia because her father worked for the Army Corps of Engineers in that nation. Gay earned her B.A. in economics from Stanford University in 1992, and her undergraduate thesis earned her the prestigious Anna Laura Meyers Prize. Her Harvard dissertation won the revered Toppan Prize in political science. Gay’s academic research focuses on political behavior, the politics of race and ethnicity, and voter turnout.
In 2015, Gay became the Wilber A. Cowett Professor of Government and three years later in 2018 she was appointed the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the largest academic division at Harvard University. As Dean, she developed a reputation for fairness and for a strong and decisive hand when adjudicating unprofessional behavior of faculty. Gay, for example, revoked the emeritus status of a male faculty member accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and suspended two others for violating the faculty handbook on professorial decorum.
Dr. Gay’s research partially focuses on how diverse demographic neighborhoods are shaped by racial and political attitudes, especially in bordering Black and Latino areas. That interest parallels her research concerns about the roots of the adversarial and cooperative dialectics between cross-cultural economic interests. In 2019, Gay became a leading campus advocate for a Black Latino faculty member who was denied tenure. As Dean, she continued to be an advocate for diversity and inclusion. Earlier, in 2017, she created the Inequality in America Initiative, with over 70 affiliated faculty.
As incoming president of Harvard, Gay will be responsible for implementing the recommendations of two major committees: the Presidential Committee on “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” and marketing the “Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability.” As president of Harvard University, she will also have to face a different type of diversity issue when two U.S. Supreme Court cases which address affirmative action will be under review. Harvard’s lawyers will defend the University from a lawsuit filed by Students for Fair Admission– SFAA V. HARVARD 2024.
Dr. Gay is married to a Harvard University health-care analyst, Dr. Christopher Afendulis, and the couple have one son.