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Harvard faculty lends support to first Black president Claudine Gay


Following Congressional testimony on campus anti-semitism

More than 650 members of Harvard University’s faculty have signed a letter urging administrators to resist calls to remove the school’s president amid an outcry over testimony she gave last week at a congressional hearing on campus antisemitism.

“We, the undersigned faculty, urge you in the strongest possible terms to defend the independence of the university and to resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom, including calls for the removal of President Claudine Gay,” the letter says.

“The critical work of defending a culture of free inquiry in our diverse community cannot proceed if we let its shape be dictated by outside forces,” the letter goes on to say. NBC News obtained the text of the letter from history professor Alison Frank Johnson, one of the faculty members spearheading the effort.

Frank Johnson said 664 people had signed the letter by Monday morning. She declined to release the names of the signatories, but said in an email that she was “very, very pleased by how broad the base of support is!”

The letter was delivered to the Harvard Corporation, the governing body that could decide Gay’s fate less than six months after she assumed the role. Harvard’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The pressure on Gay mounted over the weekend after the resignation of University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill. Gay, Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth have drawn fierce criticism after they appeared to dodge the question of whether students calling for the genocide of Jews should be punished.

In a contentious exchange during the five-hour hearing last Tuesday with Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., Gay said “that type of hateful speech is personally abhorrent to me” and “at odds with the values of Harvard.”

Stefanik then pressed Gay: “Can you not say here that it is against the code of conduct at Harvard?”

The president did not answer directly, saying in part: “We embrace a commitment to free expression even of views that are objectionable, offensive, hateful — it’s when that speech crosses into conduct that violates our policies against bullying, harassment, intimidation.”

Magill responded to Stefanik in similar terms that critics described as lawyerly and evasive. Instead of directly replying to Stefanik’s yes-or-no question about the school’s code of conduct, Magill said that decision would be “context-dependent.”

Gay has since apologized for her remarks.