Harvard Makes Groundbreaking Choice for Its Next President

Claudine Gay, a political participation expert, will be the school's first Black leader
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 15, 2022 6:35 PM CST
Harvard Makes Groundbreaking Choice for Its Next President
This photo provided by Harvard University shows Claudine Gay, who will become the school's president.   (Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University via AP)

Harvard University announced Thursday that Claudine Gay will become its 30th president, making her the first Black person and the second woman to lead the Ivy League school. Gay, who is currently a dean at the university and a democracy scholar, will become president July 1. She replaces Lawrence Bacow, who is stepping down. She currently serves as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard's Arts and Sciences faculty. "This is crazy, right?" a beaming Gay said as she was introduced to applause at the Smith campus center, the AP reports. "I am absolutely humbled by the confidence that the governing board has placed in me," she said.

A child of Haitian immigrants, and the cousin of author and academic Roxane Gay, Gay is regarded as a leading voice on the issue of American political participation. Among the issues she has explored is how a range of social and economic factors shape political views and voting. She also is the founding chair of Harvard's Inequality in America Initiative, which studies issues like the effects of child poverty and deprivation on educational opportunity and American inequality from a global perspective. In a statement, Penny Pritzker, chair of the search committee, said Gay is "devoted to sustaining and enhancing Harvard's academic excellence, to championing both the value and the values of higher education and research, to expanding opportunity, and to strengthening Harvard as a fount of ideas and a force for good in the world."

In her speech, Gay called for greater collaboration among schools at Harvard and said there was an urgency for the university be more engaged with the world. "The idea of the 'ivory tower'—that is the past not the future of academia. We don't exist outside of society, but as part of it," she said. "That means that Harvard has a duty to lean in, engage, and to be of service to the world." Gay will be the only Black president currently in the Ivy League and the second Black woman ever, following Ruth Simmons, who led Brown University from 2001 to 2012. Relatively few US universities have Black presidents, said Eddie Cole, a historian at UCLA. "This presidential hire will arguably be one of the most significant in American higher education for years to come," Cole said.

(More Harvard stories.)

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