Harvard President Claudine Gay is facing growing pressure to resign, with donors and alumni calling for her ouster over comments she made about antisemitism on campus during a congressional hearing last week.
At the same time, hundreds of faculty members are showing their support for the president. The university body that could determine Gay's future is set to meet today. Student reporters Claire Yuan and Miles Herszenhorn of the Harvard Crimson joined GBH’s Morning Edition co-hosts Paris Alston and Jeremy Siegel to discuss the latest. This transcript has been lightly edited.
Jeremy Siegel: So 500 members of the faculty in total are signing on to a letter of support for Gay, saying that the school should not bend to donors here. At the same time, there are alumni calling for Gay to step down. Also, a rabbi who sat on the university's antisemitism task force is resigning. Where do things stand, Miles, before this meeting of the university's governing bodies?
Miles Herszenhorn: Great question, Jeremy. It's been a really bad week for President Claudine Gay. Last week, she went to Washington to try to quell the controversy over her response to antisemitism on campus. And that testimony only made things worse. Then on Thursday, launch of a congressional investigation, the member of the antisemitism advisory group that she formed less than a month ago resigned from his role there. Then, you know, the governing boards are meeting. It's just been a really bad week. And today we are expecting the Harvard Corporation to decide whether or not to release a statement in support of Claudine Gay. So it's been a bad week for her, and today will really determine whether or not it's an even worse week.
Paris Alston: Now, we should note that you all were able to interview her. And in that interview, she did apologize for her comments. How is that being received on campus?
Claire Yuan: Yeah, there are certainly mixed responses. There is a constituency on campus that feels like it's too little, too late. The damage that she did with that final exchange with Representative [Elise] Stefanik during the testimony really hurt a lot of people. And that's something that she knows. It's criticism President Gay has been hearing. She did express that she was sorry. Some people think it's not enough. Others do appreciate the fact that she said something at all to express that. The sense of remorse is helpful in knowing that she is hearing their concerns and at least in some way, shape or form, is processing them.
Siegel: This story has gained so much national attention. It's the lead story in The New York Times this morning. It also was on Friday, it was the cold open of Saturday Night Live over the weekend, they had a bunch of jokes about the testimony. With so much focus on your school right now, Claire, how are students on campus experiencing all of this? I mean, there's been the protests, now the university's president is potentially facing an ouster. How does Harvard feel?
Yuan: Yeah, it's a good question. And it's certainly not something that we as reporters at the Crimson and also just students at large are missing. We realize that there is a very large national spotlight on Harvard right now. You know, one of our colleagues, Elias Schisgall, who actually wrote about the faculty support, has also been really helping us with a lot of this coverage. Some of our colleagues have been quoted in The Times. You know, we definitely see this heightened, heightened attention. I think students are also using this platform as a time to get their message out, knowing that protests on campus right now are going to be seen, are going to be heard. And on both sides, students just are really looking to get some attention from the university to get more action from the university and also to get more national support behind, whatever their sort of hope for more support is.
Alston: And we should mention, of course, this comes on the heels of what spurred all of this, that that open letter that a number of student organizations signed on to that caused a lot of controversy. And, Miles, this is only a few months into President Gay's tenure here. I mean, how are students feeling about her status as the leader of the university?
Herszenhorn: It is extraordinary. President Gay's first statement after the Israel-Hamas war and after that controversial letter went viral, was released on the 100th day of her presidency. She is brand new to this role. And this is a tough crisis for any university president to face at any point in their tenure. But the fact that it is happening before she has completed a semester in office is mind-boggling. That being said, you know, when trying to take the pulse of campus, it's something that's really hard to do. There are certainly a lot of people who still believe that President Gay deserves a chance, that it's just too early to be calling into question her future at the helm of the university. But it should be said as well that there's a large segment of our campus population that right now is in the middle of finals. That is all they are thinking about. They've got exams to do, and they are in the library studying for them.
Siegel: Well, I guess it's something I'm curious about. I mean, Harvard, one of the greatest schools in the world, now at the center of this controversy surrounding free speech, antisemitism and protest on college campuses. Does this hurt Harvard's reputation?
Herszenhorn: I don't necessarily know how to answer that because I think that Harvard's reputation is obviously one that is very well-known. And I think that this spotlight definitely puts Harvard at the center of attention. But it's not the first time that Harvard has faced a major scandal, including in regards to the university president. President Larry Summers was in the middle of a massive scandal back in back in 2006. I think this still pales a little bit to that scandal. So, you know, considering that there was some damage done by that but Harvard seemed to have recovered, I'm not sure that this will have a very permanent effect on Harvard's reputation, but the jury's still out.
Alston: Well, lastly here, will you be watching as the story continues to unfold?
Yuan: Absolutely. We are continuing to follow, even, as Miles said, amidst all the finals going on.
Siegel: That is Claire Yuan and Miles Herszenhorn of the Harvard Crimson. Claire, Miles, thank you so much for coming into the studio to share your reporting.
Herszenhorn: Thank you.
Yuan: Thank you.
Alston: You're listening to GBH's Morning Edition.