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‘A Great Day for Harvard’: Many Faculty Confident in Gay’s Appointment to Top University Post

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When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay stepped up to the plate, working to ease the transition to remote instruction for students and faculty.

After students were sent home in March 2020 due to growing public health concerns, Gay implemented universal pass-fail grading for the remainder of the term. She also piloted a remote work system, led planning for the school’s gradual reopening, and carried out budget cuts to offset the pandemic’s financial impact.

Nearly three years later, after Gay was announced as Harvard’s 30th president Thursday afternoon, faculty members pointed to her leadership through the pandemic as evidence of her readiness for the role.

“When I read the news, I was elated,” said Suzanne P. Blier, a professor of African and African American Studies who previously endorsed Gay for the role. “She’s been a force of calm in a sea of Covid difficulty.”

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Harvard Divinity School professor Jacob K. Olupona, also a professor of AAAS, said Gay’s leadership transformed the FAS into a “pace setter during the difficult period.”

Former University President Drew G. Faust lauded the presidential search committee’s decision to appoint Gay, writing in an email to The Crimson that she was “thrilled” with the choice, adding that it was “a great day for Harvard.”

Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana also called Gay’s appointment “a great moment for Harvard” in an interview Thursday.

“I’m inspired knowing that a person of her academic background, where she’s come from, what she represents in terms of possibilities, is making so many young people around the world see what might be possible for them,” he said.

Lawrence D. Bobo — who succeeded Gay as dean of Social Sciences in 2018 — called Gay’s appointment as Harvard’s next president the “right and arguably obvious choice.”

“She has already proven to be a skilled, effective, and indeed visionary leader,” he wrote in an email.

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Many faculty members matched Faust and Bobo’s optimism for the future of Harvard under Gay’s leadership, citing her compassion and professionalism.

“Most important to me as a faculty member is that she obviously cares deeply about this institution and has assumed the role out of dedication to Harvard rather than from self-advancement or self-promotion,” Harvard Kennedy School professor Archon Fung, who chaired the faculty advisory committee for the presidential search, wrote in an email.

History professor Maya R. Jasanoff ’96, who said she worked alongside Gay before her promotion to dean, said she has been impressed by Gay’s “tremendous integrity” and “clarity of purpose.”

Faculty members also praised Gay’s attentiveness during her tenure as Dean.

“She’s very steady and makes thoughtful attempts to listen to people very carefully and hear different constituencies really well,” said Benjamin L. de Bivort, a professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Professors said that even though they disagreed with some of Gay’s decisions as FAS dean, they appreciated her attitude in the face of discord.

“Even when she made decisions that made me unhappy, I always admired her clarity, directness, and decisiveness,” Sociology professor Jason Beckfield wrote in an email.

“I’ve seen her demonstrate great generosity and collegiality even in the face of controversy and disagreement,” wrote Caroline E. Light, the director of undergraduate studies for Studies in Women, Gender, and Sexuality.

Gay will ascend to the position on July 1, 2023. She will be the University’s first president of color and its second female president.

—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at rahem.hamid@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ArielH_Kim.

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