Harvard president apologizes for congressional testimony on anti-Semitism

Harvard President Claudine Gay has apologized to the university community for her testimony before Congress, where she avoided answering questions about whether calls for genocide against the Jews would violate campus policy.

“I’m sorry,” said Dr. Gay in an interview which is the campus newspaper, Harvard Crimson, published on Friday. “Words matter.”

“When words increase the distress and pain, I don’t know how you can feel anything but regret,” she said.

The interview followed when dr. Gay faced a storm of fallout, including the sudden resignation of a rabbi from Harvard’s anti-Semitism advisory committee, the start of a congressional investigation and even suggestions from a prominent alumnus that she was unqualified for the post she assumed in July.

dr. Gay said in an interview that she was “caught up” in a flurry of questions Tuesday from Rep. Elisa Stefanik, R-New York, and that she “should have kept in mind” during the exchange to “go back to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community—threats against our Jewish students—have no place at Harvard and will never go unchallenged.”

The exchange in which Mrs. Stefanik, dr. Gay and two other university leaders, Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania and Sally Kornbluth of MIT, have thrown the nation’s three most influential colleges into turmoil. On Thursday, a House committee opened an investigation into the “learning environments” at all three campuses, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said the three presidents should step down.

Asked during Tuesday’s hearing whether invoking the genocide of the Jewish people meant defying Harvard’s policy against bullying and harassment, Dr. Gay replied, “It could be, depending on the context.”

Ms. Magill drew some of the harshest criticism for her testimony, with influential donors and alumni calling for her expulsion from Penn. One associate decided to revoke a gift worth approximately $100 million. But the alarm about Dr. Gaya is also steeped in debate about how universities deal with racial issues.

Bill Ackman, the billionaire investor and Harvard alumnus, insisted on social media this week that the appointment of Dr. Gaya linked to the university’s goals for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Reducing the pool of applicants based on the required criteria of race, gender, and/or sexual orientation is not the right approach to identifying the best leaders for our most prestigious universities,” Mr. Ackman wrote in a post on X. “And it is also not good for those who are awarded the presidency.” who find themselves in a role that they probably wouldn’t have gotten if it weren’t for the fat finger on the scale.”

Harvard said it had no comment on Mr. Ackman’s post. In his last year’s announcement about raising dr. Penny Pritzker, who chaired the presidential search committee, said more than 600 people have been nominated to lead Harvard. When Ms. Pritzker launched her search last year, she he said that Harvard is looking for a person with, among other qualities, “a commitment to embracing diversity in many dimensions as a source of strength.”

Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Anti-Racism Research at Boston University, argued Friday that it is “racist and sexist” to “assume that superior white and male leaders earn their positions through merit and inferior black and female leaders get their positions because of identity.”

Dr Candy added: “These ideas emerge in times of crisis: the assumption is that the problem is black and the female leader.” He declined further comment.

dr. Gay has given no public signal that she is considering resigning and there is no indication that she faces as serious a rebellion as Ms. Magill at Penn. The consequences of the testimony of dr. The gays were nonetheless conspicuous, including the resignation Thursday of Rabbi David Wolpe from an advisory committee on anti-Semitism that Harvard formed in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Rabbi Wolpe said in an interview Friday that he was uncomfortable being seen on the panel as “the voice of the Jewish community.”

“I was left with a job that had a lot of responsibility and no authority,” he said, noting that he felt he could still “be a force for good” by meeting with students as a visiting scholar at Harvard Divinity School.

In a series of posts on X announcing his resignation, Rabbi Wolpe described Dr. Gaya as a “kind and thoughtful person,” but said he concluded that fighting Harvard’s problems “is the work of more than a board or a single university.” ”

Rabbi Wolpe added, “That’s not going to change by hiring or firing one person, or posting on X, or yelling at people who don’t post how you want when you want, as if posting is a summary of one’s morals and character. This is the task of educating a generation, but also a huge unlearning.”

dr. Gay said in a statement that the rabbi “deepened my and our community’s understanding of the unacceptable presence of anti-Semitism here at Harvard.” She added that she is “committed to ensuring that no member of our Jewish community faces this hatred in any form.”

But Rabbi Wolpe said enormous damage had been done to the credibility of some universities that had been embroiled in an intense debate since October. Parents, he said in an interview Friday, called and said they no longer dreamed of sending their children to schools like Harvard and Penn.

“When I was growing up, something like that was unthinkable,” Rabbi Wolpe said.

Stephanie Saul contributed to the reporting.

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