The news comes six months after current Harvard President Lawrence Bacow announced that he would retire sometime next year. Gay is scheduled to assume the leadership role of the nearly 400-year-old school on July 1, according to a statement from the university.
“Claudine is a remarkable leader who is profoundly 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,” said Harvard Corporation senior fellow Penny Pritzker, who served as chair of the school’s presidential search committee. “Claudine has brought to her roles a rare blend of incisiveness and inclusiveness, intellectual range and strategic savvy, institutional ambition and personal humility, a respect for enduring ideals, and a talent for catalyzing change.”
Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, has helped implement recommendations posited by the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery, which includes the creation of a reparative endowment meant to benefit black and indigenous populations, and participated in the launch of the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability. She is also the founding chair of the school’s Inequality in America Initiative, which includes research areas such as the nation’s history regarding “social justice” and the treatment of “undocumented” immigrants.
The academic currently leads the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences while serving as a “leading scholar of political behavior, considering issues of race and politics in America,” according to her faculty profile. She has taught at Harvard University since 2006 and was previously an assistant professor at Stanford University.
“So many fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should relate to one another are being tested,” Gay remarked. “Yet Harvard has a long history of rising to meet new challenges, of converting the energy of our time into forces of renewal and reinvention.”
Among the most noteworthy facets of Bacow’s tenure was the beginning of efforts to consider the school’s history with slavery. A report revealed that Harvard affiliates held at least 70 slaves between the school’s founding in 1636 and Massachusetts’ abolition of slavery in 1783. As a result, Harvard pledged $100 million to address its history with the practice.
Over the past two years, Harvard also made headlines by joining other elite postsecondary institutions in rolling back its standardized testing requirements. High schoolers vying for a spot in the next four undergraduate classes will no longer need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT.
The appointment of Gay to serve as president of Harvard also occurs as the Supreme Court appears poised to rule against the Ivy League school in a lawsuit contending that admissions officials discriminate against students of Asian descent. One study from 2009 found that Asians required an SAT score 140 points higher than white applicants, 270 points higher than Hispanic applicants, and 450 points higher than black applicants to experience the same chances of admission, according to a report from the Asian American Coalition for Education.