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Massachusetts Matters

After Magill’s ouster, Harvard and MIT’s presidents face renewed pressure 

But unlike in Pennsylvania, leading Massachusetts Democrats aren’t giving Harvard’s Claudine Gay and MIT’s Sally Kornbluth votes of no confidence

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University and Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University and Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testify before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 05, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

Following Elizabeth Magill’s resignation as the president of the University of Pennsylvania, public attention is now focusing on Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which are facing calls to unseat their own presidents. But Harvard’s Claudine Gay and MIT’s Sally Kornbluth are thus far facing less in-state political pressure for their resignations.

Pressure from Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro played a role in Magill’s ouster; other Pennsylvania political figures, such as Senate candidate David McCormick and Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA) were also critical of the former Penn president. But such calls have been less prevalent so far from within Massachusetts.

“Strong, moral leadership should be qualification number one for the president of the world’s leading university, but as a tireless advocate for ending the ‘cancel culture’ so pervasive at Harvard over the past decade, I’m not going to rush to cancel the president,” Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a Harvard alum, said in a statement to Jewish Insider on Monday. “That’s a decision the university’s governing boards should consider carefully.”

Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) said Friday, “I would say that in the last two months, Dr. Gay has been making a lot of second and third statements when she should have gotten it right the first time. Genocide is unacceptable, period,” but said he’d leave the decision of her resignation to the school’s board.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said last week, “If you can’t lead, if you can’t stand up and say what’s right and wrong — very much in the extreme cases, and these are the extreme cases — then you’ve got a problem,” but didn’t respond to a question from JI on Monday about whether the schools’ boards should ask their presidents to resign.

Neither did Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) or Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, a Democrat.

Gay came under increased scrutiny over the weekend over accusations she plagiarized portions of her doctoral thesis, which she has denied.

Several prominent Harvard alums in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), also did not respond to requests for comment.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who led the questioning at a House hearing last week that fueled outrage toward the three college leaders, renewed her calls on Monday for Gay and Kornbluth to be fired.

“As clear evidence of the vastness of the moral rot at every level of these schools, this earthquake has revealed that Harvard and MIT are totally unable to grasp this grave question of moral clarity at this historic moment as the world is watching in horror and disgust. It is pathetic and abhorrent,” Stefanik said in a statement. “The leadership at these universities is totally unfit and untenable.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who led a letter with Stefanik and other Republican Harvard alums in October raising concerns about the treatment of Jewish students on campus, said on his podcast on Monday, “I think we could easily see all three of these college presidents lose their jobs because of this testimony.”

“Both those institutions are hoping this just blows over,” Cruz continued. “They’re defending them in essence by not firing them right away after they witnessed this testimony.”

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