Harvard University, an institution whose history dates back to 1636, is tapping Claudine Gay as its next president, who is currently dean of Harvard’s faculty of arts and scientists. Gay will take over from Harvard’s current president, Larry Bacow in 2023. At the same time, Harvard has recently been under a microscope for its own role in perpetuating racism throughout the nation’s history. In April, the school announced a $100 million fund and a 134-page report detailing its ties to the global slave trade.
In a prepared video announcing her appointment, Gay spoke of her love for the institution.
“People are Harvard’s institutional strength. I want to take on this role because I believe in them and I want a Harvard that matches their ambition and promise.”
Gay, 52, whose parents are Haitian immigrants, also referenced Harvard’s obligations to society at large in the prepared video. The comments are timely, given ongoing conversations about wealthy institutions’ tax-exempt statuses.
”The idea of the ivory tower — that’s the past, not the future of academia,” she said. “We don’t exist alongside society but as part of it and at Harvard, we have that duty to lean in and engage and to be of service to the world.
In naming Gay as president, Harvard is sure to have an impact beyond its educational walls, because of the school’s reputation, high-profile and enormous financial means and because that institution’s history is deeply linked with slavery and other systemic manifestations of racism. Harvard University has graduated eight presidents of the United States, including Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy.
Since 2018, Gay has served as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), the University’s largest and most academically diverse faculty, spanning the biological and physical sciences and engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. As dean, she has guided efforts to expand student access and opportunity, spur excellence and innovation in teaching and research, enhance aspects of academic culture, and bring new emphasis and energy to areas such as quantum science and engineering; climate change; ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration; and the humanities. She has successfully led FAS through the COVID pandemic, consistently and effectively prioritizing the dual goals of safeguarding community health and sustaining academic continuity and progress. The disruptive effects of the crisis notwithstanding, she has also launched and led an ambitious, inclusive, and faculty-driven strategic planning process, intended to take a fresh look at fundamental aspects of academic structures, resources, and operations in FAS and to advance academic excellence in the years ahead.