Harvard president Claudine Gay

Andrea Austria / Media Matters 

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Right-wing media celebrate the ouster of Harvard’s president as part of a broader assault on higher education

After the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania were forced to resign, conservatives are now targeting the head of MIT

  • Former Harvard President Claudine Gay resigned this week following an intense right-wing campaign to oust the leaders of several prominent universities following their testimony at a congressional hearing on antisemitism in December. Gay’s resignation comes amid a clearly stated strategy on the right to target higher education and root out supposedly “woke” ideology, which also includes a prolonged assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. 

  • Several high-profile academics have been the victims of a targeted right-wing harassment campaign

    • Gay, alongside newly resigned University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and current MIT President Sally Kornbluth, was accused of not protecting Jewish students on campus during pro-Palestinian protests over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Magill resigned after intense backlash from conservatives and donors over her testimony. [The Associated Press, 12/12/23; The New York Times, 12/10/23]
    • After the early December congressional hearing, right-wing activists pivoted to continuously charging Gay with allegations of plagiarism until her resignation on January 2. Without defending Gay, President Irene Mulvey of the American Association of University Professors said that plagiarism accusations could be “weaponized” to have a chilling effect on educators, explaining: “There is a right-wing political attack on higher education right now, which feels like an existential threat to the academic freedom that has made American higher education the envy of the world.” [ABC News, 1/2/24; The Associated Press, 1/3/24]
  • Right-wing media figures have repeatedly laid out their strategy to target education in the U.S., including higher education and universities

    • The Associated Press reported that “many academics were troubled with how the plagiarism came to light: as part of a coordinated campaign to discredit Gay and force her from office, in part because of her involvement in efforts for racial justice on campus.” The AP further noted, “The campaign against Gay and other Ivy League presidents has become part of a broader right-wing effort to remake higher education, which has often been seen as a bastion of liberalism.” [The Associated Press, 1/3/24]
    • The right has become emboldened to attack higher education, targeting pro-Palestinian protests and administrations that have allowed them. Right-wing personalities have argued for the defunding of university programs and attacked students with different viewpoints from them. [Media Matters, 12/15/23]
    • Manhattan Institute fellow and anti-civil rights activist Chris Rufo has bragged about infiltrating the mainstream media’s education coverage to push right-wing talking points to the forefront. The New York Times has published an op-ed by Rufo as well as a soft-lens profile which amplified his right-wing attacks on public education. [Media Matters, 7/27/23]
    • Rufo has been clear about his intention to mainstream bad faith right-wing attacks on academia in order to oust progressives from positions of authority. On X (formerly Twitter), Rufo wrote: “We launched the Claudine Gay plagiarism story from the Right. The next step is to smuggle it into the media apparatus of the Left, legitimizing the narrative to center-left actors who have the power to topple her. Then squeeze.” Rufo later told Politico that Gay’s resignation demonstrates “a successful strategy for the political right.” [Twitter/X, 12/9/23; Politico, 1/3/24]
    • Rufo celebrated Gay’s resignation and noted he plans to replicate his attacks with other academic institutions. After Gay’s resignation, Rufo wrote, “Today, we celebrate victory,” adding, “We must not stop until we have abolished DEI ideology from every institution in America.” Rufo also announced a “plagiarism hunting” fund that seeks to charge other academics with similar accusations. [Twitter/X, 1/2/24, 1/2/24]
  • Conservative media weaponized plagiarism accusations against Gay, who received racist abuse and death threats

    • Rufo and other right-wing media figures publicized a series of alleged instances of plagiarism committed by Gay in multiple publications. [The Washington Free Beacon, 12/19/23, Business Insider, 12/12/23]
    • OutKick’s Charly Arnolt claimed, “It is really quite hard to believe a word that comes out of this woman's mouth because her standards of conduct or integrity in any realm do not actually exist.” Arnolt went on to say, “A woman like this has no business being a leader or setting an example at what is supposed to be one of the leading universities in this country.” [OutKick, OutKick the Morning, 12/12/23
    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt promoted Rufo’s reporting against Gay and claimed that if progressives “admit that she is a fraud, they'd be forced to admit their entire ideology is a scam, and they can't do that.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 12/13/23]
    • On Fox, former Boston University associate provost Peter Wood claimed Gay “is the wokest college president in the country and is trying to lead a total transformation of Harvard to allow her academic dishonesty.” Wood claims the reason for this is to “undo white supremacy or the systemic racism that she sees around every corner would upset the political commitments of powerful people at Harvard.” Fox host Laura Ingraham added that “it exposes the truth about diversity, equity, inclusion, that sadly it lowers standards and it actually hurts everybody.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 12/13/23]
    • Fox News host Jeanine Pirro referred to Gay as the “Joe Biden of plagiarism.” [Fox News, The Five, 12/13/23]
    • After Gay resigned, New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz framed Gay’s alleged plagiarism as “something Harvard obviously cannot accept at a mass level. They tried to protect her as best they could and she ran out of options here.” Markowicz also said, “It was her congressional testimony that kicked all of this off. It should have been that congressional testimony where she really floundered … that should have ended her career there.” [Fox News, America Reports, 1/2/24]
    • Following the right’s academic witch hunt, Gay has been subjected to racist abuse and death threats online. These attacks came after Rufo’s strategy of courting right-wing journalists and donors to loudly and repeatedly condemn Gay for alleged antisemitism and accusations of plagiarism — he even took some credit for her resignation in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “How We Squeezed Harvard to Push Claudine Gay Out.” [The New York Times, 1/3/24; The Wall Street Journal, 1/3/24]
  • Right-wing media bashed Gay for alleged antisemitism and celebrated her resignation and that of former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill

    • In a December 9 article titled “Magill Is Only the Beginning,” John Podhoretz wrote, “May her ‘resignation’ be the first major step on the road to the renovation and salvation of our universities.” [Commentary.org, 12/9/23]
    • Fox guest Chris Valletta said “President Gay's testimony was a low point in American history” and celebrated that Harvard and other Ivy League schools are supposedly “staring down the face of irrelevancy.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 12/12/23]
    • Fox host Jesse Watters referred to the Harvard president as “an academic fraud who plagiarized half of her scholarly papers and allows students to scream, ‘Kill all the Jews.’ Watters continued, “And now that the Harvard board doesn’t have the backbone to terminate her, she’s taking a little victory lap. Gay thinks she’s untouchable.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 12/14/23]
    • After Gay resigned, Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce claimed Gay is “a product of the system” that believes in “Jew hatred” and “the DEI dynamic.” Bruce: “She is a symptom of it, and it is unfortunate now it is her face in the front, and it is bigger than her.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 1/2/24]
    • Spectator columnist Daniella Greenbaum Davis posted: “It's lovely that President Gay resigned as a result of her plagiarism scandal. It would be better if she had resolved over her antisemitism scandal.” [Twitter/X, 1/2/24]
    • Newsweek Senior Editor-at-Large Josh Hammer referred to Gay’s resignation as a “huge scalp … especially when combined with Liz Magill’s a few weeks ago.” Hammer added: “But we can’t rest on our laurels. This is a fight for civilizational sanity against civilizational arson. We can’t stop until the DEI cancer is fully eliminated.” [Twitter/X, 1/2/24]
  • Some right-wing figures are calling for the downfall of MIT’s current president next

    • OutKick host Charly Arnolt parroted guest Dan Dakich, saying, “Two down, one to go. MIT — your move.” [OutKick, OutKick the Morning, 1/3/24]
    • Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy posted, “See ya Claudine Gay. 2 down. MIT on the clock.” [Twitter/X, 1/2/24]
    • Manhattan Institute’s Ilya Shapiro posted: “Two down, one more to go. Sally Kornbluth, call your office.” Shapiro further claimed, “MIT declined to discipline students who violated school rules during anti-Jewish protests because so many of them were foreign and thus would’ve lost their visas.” [Twitter/X, 1/2/24]
    • Former Trump White House press secretary Sean Spicer wrote “2 down (@Penn @harvard), 1 (@MIT) to go.” Spicer also called Gay’s resignation a “great start to 2024.” [Twitter/X, 1/2/24]