Former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s expansion of campus diversity bureaucracies quashed academic freedom and chilled free speech on campus, according to current and former professors.
Gay resigned as president on Jan. 2 after facing multiple plagiarism allegations and pushback from failing to say whether calls for genocide violated the school’s code of conduct at a Dec. 5 congressional hearing on campus antisemitism. She was involved in a series of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives on campus during her time as a dean and as president, including creating new DEI positions and creating a task force that recommended portraits of white men be taken down.
Gay joined Harvard’s faculty in 2006 as a professor and became a part of the Harvard administration in 2015, serving as the dean of the social sciences at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) at Harvard, according to the Harvard Gazette. She then served as the Edgerley Family Dean of FAS starting in 2018 before ascending to the university presidency in July 2023.
Gay announced a slew of “racial-justice” initiatives as FAS dean in August 2020 following the George Floyd riots, according to Harvard Magazine. She created a “visiting professorship in ethnicity, indigeneity and migration” to “recruit leading scholars of race and ethnicity to spend a year at Harvard engaged in teaching our undergraduates.”
She also announced a “study of the hiring, professional development, and promotion practices that may contribute to the low representation of minority staff in managerial and executive roles,” according to Harvard Magazine. The study was designed to “identify concrete steps” Harvard can take “to increase racial diversity of senior staff.”
Gay also announced the addition of an associate dean of diversity, inclusion, and belonging, according to Harvard Magazine.
“Instead of enhancing polarization by subscribing to the far left of the political spectrum, academia should heal societal tension and represent the diverse set of views within American society. The students should witness dialogues where opposing ideas are debated on campus, so they can make their own choice. Faculty should not be afraid to speak their mind,” Avi Loeb, theoretical physicist at Harvard, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Gay also formed the “Task Force on Visual Culture and Signage” in 2020, a group designed to assess the imagery around campus for its effects on students, to “advance racial justice,” according to The Harvard Crimson. The task force recommended changing “spaces whose visual culture is dominated by homogenous portraiture of white men,” accordingto its report.
It called for the redecoration of the walls of Annenberg Hall, which in December 2021 contained 23 portraits, of which 20 were white men, according to the Crimson.
“While it’s unclear how much the DEI bureaucracy has contributed to this hostile environment for free speech, the rise of DEI on campus has certainly coincided with a devaluing of free speech principles at Harvard. Additionally, much of the censorship at Harvard is directed at those opposed to liberal and progressive ideas, which suggests that the DEI bureaucracy has influenced the culture of free speech on campus,” Zachary Greenberg, senior program officer for campus rights advocacy at Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), told the DCNF.
Harvard is ranked last on FIRE’s 2024 free speech report of universities in the U.S.
“The components of DEI are often defined in ways that bring them into conflict with free speech. For example, many proponents of DEI believe ‘inclusion’ requires others to refrain from saying certain things that are deemed ‘harmful,’” Steve McGuire, Paul & Karen Levy fellow in Campus Freedom at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told the DCNF.
Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker, alongside 70 other professors at the university, announced the creation of the Council on Academic Freedom at Harvard in April 2023, which advocates for more free speech on campus, accordingto the Crimson.
“Many of the assaults on academic freedom (not to mention common sense) come from a burgeoning bureaucracy that calls itself diversity, equity, and inclusion while enforcing a uniformity of opinion, a hierarchy of victim groups, and the exclusion of freethinkers. Often hastily appointed by deans as expiation for some gaffe or outrage, these officers stealthily implement policies that were never approved in faculty deliberations or by university leaders willing to take responsibility for them,” Pinker wrote in a December op-ed for the Boston Globe.
Harvard Law Professor Mark Ramseyer said that DEI was partially to blame for the fall of free speech on Harvard’s campus in an email shared on X, formerly Twitter, by former Harvard Lecturer Carole Hooven.
“Better alignment of campuses with the diverse set of values within American society would have helped avoid the recent turmoil. It could also help universities recruit the very best scholars and students from all parts of the political spectrum and develop good relationships with both Democrats and Republicans,” Loeb told the DCNF.
Gay came under fire after staying silent after the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel, after which over 30 student organizations signed a letter blaming the “Israeli colonial occupations” for the attacks. The university created an antisemitism task force in November, however one of the members of the group, Rabbi David Wolpe, quit on Dec. 7 and argued that it was infected by Marxist ideology.
“The system at Harvard, along with the ideology that grips far too many of the students and faculty, the ideology that works only along axes of oppression and places Jews as oppressors and therefore intrinsically evil, is itself evil,” Wolpe said.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce opened an investigation into several universities following its hearing in December. After the resignation of Gay, the committee said they would not be halting their investigation and expanded it to include DEI on campuses.
Harvard University and Pinker did not respond to the DCNF’s requests for comments. Gay could be reached for comment.
Brandon Poulter on January 11, 2024