Claudine Gay (1970-)

Dr. Claudine Gay posing at desk
Dr Claudine Gay
Photograph by Stephanie Mitchell, courtesy Harvard Public Affairs and Communications

On December 17, 2022, Dr. Claudine Gay was appointed president of Harvard University. She became the first Black president in Harvard’s nearly 400 years of existence, attaining her new position after a competitive search which included over 600 applicants.

Dr. Gay had previously served as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, the largest College in the university. In her presidential acceptance speech, she stated she was honored to be a child of Haitian immigrants and noted that her mother was a registered nurse, and her father was an engineer.

Dr. Gay was born in the Bronx, New York, on August 4, 1970. She spent part of her childhood in Saudi Arabia when her father worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in that nation. In her teen years, Gay matriculated at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, graduating in 1988. Gay earned her B.A. in economics from Stanford in 1992, and her undergraduate thesis earned her the Anna Laura Meyers Prize. She received a Ph.D in government from Harvard in 1998. Her dissertation won the Toppan Prize in political science and later taught in the university’s Political Science Department as well as Africana Studies.

Dr. Gay’s academic research at Harvard focused on how diverse demographic neighborhoods are shaped by racial and political attitudes, especially those bordering Black and Latino areas. In 2015, she became the Wilber A. Cowett Professor of Government and three years later, in 2018, she was appointed Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences by then-Harvard President Lawrence Seldon Bacow.

As Dean of the largest College in the University, Gay developed a reputation for fairness and decisiveness in adjudicating unprofessional faculty behavior. In one instance she removed 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.

Gay also became a prominent campus advocate for equity and inclusion. In 2017, she led 70 affiliated faculty in creating the Inequality in America Initiative which calls for funding research in social and economic issues. In 2019, Gay defended a Black-Latino faculty member who was denied tenure.

As Dean, Gay was responsible for implementing the recommendations of two main committees: the Presidential Committee on “Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery” and promoting the “Salata Institute’s Recommendations for Climate and Sustainability.”

Dr. Claudine Gay at podium being cheered as president-elect of Harvard with hands together over mouth

On January 3, 2024, slightly over one year into her tenure as Harvard’s President, Dr. Gay resigned. Her decision was based upon public criticism of an answer she gave before a U.S. Congressional Committee on December 5, 2023, investigating antisemitic rhetoric on university campuses. In response to a question regarding hate speech at a recent pro-Palestinian student rally at Harvard, Dr. Gay answered that Harvard’s free-speech code could prohibit such speech depending on the context. That answer was considered unsatisfactory to some Committee members and it subsequently created a firestorm of controversy with political conservatives across the nation calling for her resignation. Shortly thereafter, various faculty at Harvard and scholars elsewhere called for her resignation based upon evidence that she plagiarized some of her publications.

Dr. Gay is married to a Harvard University healthcare analyst, Dr. Christopher Afendulis, and the couple have one son.