kourdistoportocali.comThe Ones Who DoWilliam A. Ackman> In her short tenure as President, Claudine Gay has done more damage to the reputation of Harvard University than any individual in our nearly 500-year history

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William A. Ackman> In her short tenure as President, Claudine Gay has done more damage to the reputation of Harvard University than any individual in our nearly 500-year history

-President Gay’s failures since October 7th led to a Congressional investigation of her conduct

Please see my letter today to @Harvard
governing boards of directors>

December 10, 2023

Dear Members of the Harvard Governing Boards:

In her short tenure as President, Claudine Gay has done more damage to the reputation of Harvard University than any individual in our nearly 500-year history.

Because of her failure to condemn the most vile and barbaric terrorism the world has ever seen, for supporting rather than condemning 34 Harvard-branded student organizations who hold Israel “entirely responsible” for Hamas’ barbaric acts, for failing to enforce Harvard’s own rules on student conduct, and for her other failures of leadership, President Gay catalyzed an explosion of antisemitism and hate on campus that is unprecedented in Harvard’s history.

In light of Harvard’s leadership position, President Gay’s mishandling of October 7th and its aftermath on campus have led to the metastasis of antisemitism to other universities and institutions around the world.

President Gay’s actions and inactions have gravely interfered with the ability of students to continue to learn at Harvard and for its faculty to teach and do research. Classes are continually disrupted by protesters who use bullhorns and other disruptive methods, and the offending students suffer no disciplinary action.

Literally, as I write this post, highly disruptive protests are underway inside Widener Library while students are trying to study for final exams and finish their term papers during the last two weeks of the semester.

As a result of President Gay’s failure to enforce Harvard’s own rules, Jewish students, faculty and others are fearful for their own safety as even the physical abuse of students remains unpunished.

President Gay’s absurd explanation for the lack of disciplinary action for the October 18th HBS incident was that the University cannot discipline students until the HUPD and FBI investigations are complete. To date, I am unaware of any disciplinary actions taken for the October 18th incident nearly two months later.

President Gay’s principal response to address antisemitism on campus was to set up a task force. Within a few weeks of its formation, @RabbiWolpe
, the only rabbi on the task force, publicly announced his resignation from the committee. In an @X
post, he explained:

“The short explanation is that both events on campus and the painfully inadequate testimony reinforced the idea that I cannot make the sort of difference that I had hoped.”

He later explained on news television that:

“I came to the conclusion that I was not going to be able to make the kinds of changes I thought Harvard needed,” saying the committee had “accountability without authority.”

President Gay’s failures since October 7th led to a Congressional investigation of her conduct. This outcome on its own is an incredible embarrassment to Harvard. I have been unable to identify any former Harvard president being the subject of a Congressional investigation since the establishment of the Congress in 1789.

President Gay’s entire testimony was abysmal. She was disrespectful and condescending to the Congress. She was a hostile witness, unwilling to answer direct questions from members.

In words that will forever live in infamy, President Gay’s response to the question:

“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules regarding bullying or harassment?”

President Gay: “It depends on the context.”

Harvard President Claudine Gay, left, speaks as University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill listens, during a hearing of the House Committee on Education on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

My X post which shared the excerpt of the three university presidents’ testimony has been viewed more than 106 million times, and condemned in comments and reposted by more than 80,000 people from around the world.

President Gay’s testimony was also slammed by Harvard Hillel:

“President Gay’s failure to properly condemn this speech calls into question her ability to protect Jewish students on Harvard’s campus… President Gay’s testimony fails to reassure us that the University is seriously concerned about the antisemitic rhetoric pervasive on campus.”

And by her most liberal supporters:

Professor Emeritus Larry Tribe @tribelaw
: “[Her] hesitant, formulaic, and bizarrely evasive answers were deeply troubling to me and many of my colleagues, students, and friends.”

President Gay’s failures have led to billions of dollars of cancelled, paused, and withdrawn donations to the university. I am personally aware of more than a billion dollars of terminated donations from a small group of Harvard’s most generous Jewish and non-Jewish alumni. I have been copied and blind copied on numerous letters and emails to the University from alums who have written scathing letters to Gay and/or the Board withdrawing donations.

President Gay’s actions and inactions have exposed Harvard to substantial legal liability due to alleged violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 putting at risk Harvard’s Federal funding, tax-exempt status, and creating the risk of substantial financial liability to the University from private plaintiffs.

President Gay’s Failed Leadership Did Not Begin with Her Presidency

During her tenure as Dean and now as president, Gay has squelched speech she disfavors while defending and thereby amplifying vile and threatening hate speech, exhibiting a remarkable double standard. In the words of Professor Steven Pinker:

“Claudine was technically correct that students can’t be punished for political chants, but when Harvard et al. have no prior credible commitment to academic freedom, institutional neutrality & viewpoint diversity, the born-again appeal to principle seems incriminating.”

Free speech deteriorated materially under Gay’s deanship and presidency as evaluated by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Harvard’s free speech ranking has deteriorated each year over the last four academic years to a ranking of 0.00 or last out of 254 universities this past year. According to FIRE, Harvard is the only university with an “abysmal” speech climate. In my letter to the board of December 3rd, I quoted Harvard faculty I interviewed on the lack of free speech at Harvard. I encourage you to read what they had to say.

Gay has presided over discriminatory hiring practices at Harvard. The faculty have been told in no uncertain terms that candidates that do not meet DEI criteria will not be considered for certain faculty positions.

As Dean, Gay showed no respect for basic American legal principles when she fired Harvard Law School Professor Ronald Sullivan as residential dean for taking on the legal defense of Harvey Weinstein. President Gay should hope that someday when she needs counsel, she will be able to obtain quality representation for herself.

DEI and the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (OEDIB)

In recent weeks, I have learned a lot about DEI practices at Harvard and have come to the conclusion that the Office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, which was formed in 2019 under Dean Gay’s oversight and vision the year after she became Dean of FAS, is none of those things. In fact, the actions of the OEDIB have led to preferences and favoritism for certain racial, gender, and LGBTQ+ groups at the expense of other groups, and made some members of the Harvard community feel included at the expense of others that are excluded.

When I mentioned in my December 3rd letter to President Gay that among others, Jewish, Asian, Indian and straight white male students were excluded from the benefits of the ODEIB office, her solution to this problem, which she outlined in an email to the Harvard community, was to propose that the OEDIB include Jewish students in some manner. This is not right answer.

The OEDIB is a major contributing source of discriminatory practices on campus and highly damaging to the culture and sense of community at Harvard. It is beyond repair and should be shut down.

I do not mean to suggest whatsoever that the goal of a diverse university that is welcoming for all should be abandoned. Rather, the OEDIB is not the solution as it is fundamentally an organization with political objectives that are inconsistent with achieving true diversity and inclusion at Harvard.

The OEDIB’s definition of equity is also inconsistent with Harvard excellence. Over its nearly 500-year history, Harvard has been a beacon for excellence based on the equality of opportunity it offers, not by promoting a system or ideology which forces or requires the equality of outcomes.

On the Decision to Terminate President Gay

Last Thursday, December 8th, a bipartisan coalition of 72 members of Congress issued a public letter to the Harvard governing boards demanding President Gay’s termination. It is rare that our Congress has been able to accomplish anything in recent years in a bipartisan fashion, let alone in a matter of days. Congress’ decisive action here speaks volumes.

In the last 24 hours, a petition has been circulating among the Harvard community which asks the board to fire President Gay. I expect it may already have thousands of signatures.

As Charlie Munger of blessed memory advised: “Invert, always invert,” i.e., turn a situation or a problem upside down to better understand and solve it. Using Mr. Munger’s rubric, let’s assume that the office of president at Harvard were vacant.

Knowing what we know now, would Harvard consider Claudine Gay for the position? The answer is definitively “No.” With this simple thought experiment, the board’s decision on President Gay could not be more straightforward.

The Search Process for a New President

I was recently accused by several bloggers and other commentators of being a racist when I shared that the board, in the search process that led to the hiring of President Gay, would not consider a candidate for president that did not meet DEI criteria. I have confirmed now from multiple sources that the search committee that led to President Gay’s appointment excluded non-DEI eligible candidates from the process.

To set the record straight, my criticism of President Gay would be unchanged if her gender, race, and/or LGBTQ+ status were different.

As I am sure the board is well aware, a search process which excludes potential candidates based on their racial, gender, sexual preference or other similar criteria is inherently a discriminatory and/or racist process, which is illegal under the law.

In the likely event that Harvard launches a new search process for president, to state the obvious, all candidates regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, and/or political views should be considered for the position.

The board also needs to also launch a detailed investigation into discriminatory hiring practices at the University, and put in place measures to ensure that these practices never again occur.

The events of the last two months have taken a devastating toll on the Harvard brand and its community at large. With the right leadership and governance, Harvard can be restored to its historic stature as one of the world’s leading research and educational institutions comprised of a diverse and welcoming community which fosters free speech, encourages diverse viewpoints, and provides an environment that preserves academic freedom.

I am highly confident that Harvard, the governing boards, and the Harvard community at large will greatly benefit and learn from this experience. As I often say, experience is making mistakes and learning from them. The mistakes that were made that led to recent events began many years, if not decades, ago.

Let’s make sure that we use this opportunity to fundamentally repair our beloved institution for it is incumbent upon us as the current stewards of Harvard. We are all collectively responsible for the currently impaired status of our historically esteemed institution.

I am grateful for the role all of you serve on behalf of the entire Harvard community. Thank you for your service.

I would be delighted to help the governing boards and Harvard in any way that I can. Please call upon me at any time.


William A. Ackman, A.B. 1988, MBA 1992