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Updated December 23rd, 2023 at 16:43 IST

Did Obama secretly press Harvard to retain embattled president Claudine Gay?

Former US President Barrack Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate himself, privately urged the university to stand by Gay.

Sagar Kar
AP
Harvard President Claudine Gay and Barrack Obama | Representative image | Image:AP
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In a development sure to raise eyebrows across academia and beyond, former President Barack Obama has reportedly engaged in behind-the-scenes efforts to persuade Harvard University officials to retain embattled President Claudine Gay amid ongoing controversies.

Gay, who took office in 2018, has faced mounting pressure to resign in recent weeks. Accusations against her center around two key issues: her handling of alleged antisemitism on campus and potential plagiarism in her academic work.

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Obama privately urged Harvard to stand by Gay

The latest development in the saga comes from a report in the Jewish Insider, which claims Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate himself, privately urged the university to stand by Gay. According to an unnamed source mentioned in the report, the former president's message focused on preserving stability within the university's leadership.

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"It sounded like people were being asked to close ranks to keep the broader administration stable — including its composition," the source told the Jewish Insider.

It isn't clear if Obama continued to lobby for Gay after the plagiarism scandal

While the report sheds light on Obama's alleged intervention, it remains unclear whether his lobbying continued after fresh allegations of plagiarism against Gay surfaced. The accusations stem from her House Education and Workforce Committee testimony on December 5, where she reportedly cited potentially plagiarized material.

Harvard and Obama's office have both declined to comment on the matter. Meanwhile, Gay has vehemently defended her academic integrity, stating through a Boston Globe statement: "I stand by the integrity of my scholarship. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards."

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Obama's Commerce Secretary will determine Gay's fate?

Gay's fate now partially rests in the hands of former Obama Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a member of the Harvard Corporation, the university's highest governing body. Pritzker's family ties to Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker add another layer of intrigue to the saga.

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With Obama's reported intervention, concerns about academic integrity, and ongoing antisemitism accusations, the pressure on Gay and Harvard's leadership shows no signs of abating. As the story unfolds, it will be crucial to monitor how the university navigates these delicate issues and ultimately decides the future of its embattled president. It will also be interesting, to see, how the billionaires, who are stopping their donations to Harvard, perceive Obama's actions. 

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Published December 23rd, 2023 at 16:43 IST

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