Claudine Gay, a Black woman and the daughter of Haitian immigrants, will be the next president of the institution. She is set to assume office next July.
Gay was named Harvard University’s 30th president, making her the institution’s first Black president in its almost 400-year history.
Gay was appointed after a search that started in July to succeed Lawrence S. Bacow, who announced in June that he would retire the following year. Gay is now the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Gay has a lengthy connection with Harvard, despite never having served as president. She obtained her doctorate in government from the institution in 1998, and in 2008 she joined the department’s faculty. She initially taught there before moving up to the managerial levels. She taught at Stanford University before moving on to Harvard, where she studied economics as an undergrad.
Gay reminisced on her journey from the daughter of impoverished Haitian immigrants who believed fully in the power of education to a career in academia, going all the way up to the Harvard president, during a campus ceremony on Thursday announcing her selection.
Gay noted, “My parents are immigrants from Haiti. They came to the U.S. with very little and put themselves through college while raising our family,” she added, “my mom became a registered nurse and my dad a civil engineer. And it was the City College of New York that made those careers possible. College was always an expectation for me. My parents believed that education opens every door.”
Gay also spoke on the current social, political, economic, and technical shifts and issues that society is facing, adding that “fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should relate to one another are being tested.” The “long history of rising to meet new challenges, of converting the energy of our time into forces of renewal and reinvention” was cited by the speaker as evidence.
She stressed the need for Harvard to be dedicated to participation and transparency.
Gay remarked, “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.”
Gay’s personal and professional abilities were complimented by Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and head of Harvard’s presidential search committee, in a Harvard news release.
Pritzker stated, “for all her professional accomplishments, even more, impressive are Claudine’s personal qualities—her quality and clarity of mind, her broad curiosity about fields beyond her own, her integrity and fair-mindedness, and her dedication to creating opportunities for others. She will be a great Harvard president in no small part because she is such a good person.”
A lot of people expressed their joy online when Harvard made the announcement on Thursday afternoon, applauding Gay for her body of work as well as for making history by becoming the second woman and first Black president of Harvard.
“As a member of @Harvard’s Board of Overseers, as an alum, & as an educator, incredibly proud to have voted today in support of Claudine Gay’s election as President,” stated John B. King Jr., Obama’s Former administration education secretary who was recently appointed as the State University of New York system’s chancellor. King further tweeted that he was ” inspired by her intellect, vision, & deep commitment to students.”
Some others pointed out how long overdue it was for Harvard to have a Black president.
Shaun Harper, an expert in diversity, equality, and inclusion who teaches business and education at the University of Southern California, told Inside Higher Ed via email that “it’s about time.” “When Ruth Simmons was appointed president of Brown, thereby becoming the first Black person to lead an Ivy League university, I knew she wouldn’t be the last. It’s inspiring that the search committee and Harvard’s governing board members recognized that a Black woman scholar is absolutely capable of leading our nation’s oldest, most prestigious institution.”
Harper pointed out that numerous universities frequently aim to imitate Harvard, for better or worse. He said that one way other universities may emulate Harvard is by “hiring highly qualified presidents of color.”
Only a small percentage of all college presidents are people of color. Only 17% of college presidents are members of racial minorities, and only 5% of college presidents are women of color, according to the 2017 American College President Study from the American Council on Education.
Despite the low figures, a February investigation by Inside Higher Ed revealed that universities had hired more people of color as presidents since the 2020 murder of George Floyd, which heightened racial tensions throughout the nation.
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