Harvard University Selects Claudine Gay As New College President

The dean of the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences is the first African American to assume the role.

Harvard University has named Claudine Gay, dean of its Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as its 30th president. The school made the announcement on Thursday (Dec. 15) and publicized that in this role she becomes the first African American and second woman in the position. She succeeds Lawrence S. Bacow, who made the announcement in June that he would be stepping down after the 2022-23 academic year. Her presidency is set to begin in July 2023.

“I am humbled by the confidence that the governing boards have placed in me and by the prospect of succeeding President Bacow in leading this remarkable institution,” Gay said after being elected to the position, according to the Harvard Gazette. “It has been a privilege to work with Larry over the last five years. He has shown me that leadership isn’t about one person. It’s about all of us, moving forward together, and that’s a lesson I take with me into this next journey.”

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay graduated Stanford University in 1992 with a Bachelors degree in Economics and earned her Ph.D in government from Harvard in 1998. She served as an associate professor then a tenured associate professor at Stanford before returning to Harvard in 2006 to become a professor of Government. She was made a professor of African and African American Studies in 2007 and in 2015 was named the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government. In 2018, she became the Edgerley Family Dean of the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“Claudine is a remarkable leader who is profoundly devoted to sustaining and enhancing Harvard’s academic excellence, to championing both the value and the values of higher education and research, to expanding opportunity, and to strengthening Harvard as a fount of ideas and a force for good in the world,” said Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, which elected Gay to the new role, and also chair of the school’s presidential search committee. She also remarked that “Claudine has brought to her roles a rare blend of incisiveness and inclusiveness, intellectual range and strategic savvy, institutional ambition and personal humility, a respect for enduring ideals, and a talent for catalyzing change.”

An advocate of diversity in education at the faculty, staff and student levels, Gay will assume the role at a time when Harvard is facing a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court over its use of Affirmative Action to bring a more diverse body to its campus. In October, the high court began hearing arguments in two cases, one involving the University of North Carolina, the other involving Harvard. In the case of the latter, a group called Students for Fair Admission accused the school of holding Asian-American students to a higher educational standard than it does African American or Hispanic students. They accuse Harvard of ignoring race-neutral alternatives and engaging in racial balancing, according to a court filing.

In November, in a message to faculty and staff, Gay said that Harvard will remain committed to having a diverse body on its campus, whatever the Supreme Court decision is.

“Our institutional commitment to nurturing a thriving, diverse intellectual community remains unchanged,” the Gazette reported “It is essential to who we are, to the mission that we are here together to pursue, and our academic excellence depends on it. No matter the outcome, the work of that institutional imperative will continue.”

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With her vast leadership experience in the fields of political science and educational diversity, she has also been able to move Harvard forward academically. In 2021, under her leadership in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Gay launched an innovative Ph.D. program in quantum science and engineering and started the work on a new facility for scholarship in the field that is expected to merge several aspects of quantum study.

Gay also headed Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences efforts to do further research into climate change. She has also been a part of the university’s Presidential Committee on Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery.

“With the strength of this extraordinary institution behind us, we enter a moment of possibility, one that calls for deeper collaboration across the University, across all of our remarkable Schools. There is an urgency for Harvard to be engaged with the world and to bring bold, brave, pioneering thinking to our greatest challenges,” said Gay, according to the Gazette. “As I start my tenure, there’s so much more for me to discover about this institution that I love, and I’m looking forward to doing just that, with our whole community.”

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