Diaspora

Haitian-American Claudine Gay: First Black Harvard President – Island Origins Magazine

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Claudine Gay received her bachelor’s degree in 1992 from Stanford, where she majored in economics and was awarded the Anna Laura Myers Prize for best undergraduate thesis. In 1998, she received her Ph.D. in government from Harvard, where she won the Toppan Prize for best dissertation in political science. 

Since 2018, Gay has served as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), the University’s largest and most academically diverse faculty, spanning the biological and physical sciences and engineering, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. As dean, she has guided efforts to expand student access and opportunity, spur excellence and innovation in teaching and research, among other efforts. She has successfully led FAS through the COVID pandemic, consistently and effectively prioritizing the dual goals of safeguarding community health and sustaining academic continuity and progress. She has also launched and led an ambitious, inclusive, and faculty-driven strategic planning process, intended to take a fresh look at fundamental aspects of academic structures, resources, and operations.
“As her many admirers know, Claudine consults widely; she listens attentively; she thinks rigorously and imaginatively; she invites collaboration and resists complacency; and she acts with conviction and purpose,” said Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of Harvard’s presidential search committee. “All of us on the search committee are excited by the prospect of her bringing her high aspirations and interdisciplinary outlook across the Yard from University Hall to Massachusetts Hall. She will be a great Harvard president in no small part because she is such a good person,” said Pritzker.
Speaking after her election, Claudine Gay said, “I am humbled by the confidence that the governing boards have placed in me and by the prospect of succeeding President Bacow in leading this remarkable institution. It has been a privilege to work with Larry over the last five years. He has shown me that leadership isn’t about one person. It’s about all of us, moving forward together, and that’s a lesson I take with me into this next journey. As I start my tenure, there’s so much more for me to discover about this institution that I love, and I’m looking forward to doing just that, with our whole community.”
Gay was elected to the presidency on December 15, 2022 by the Harvard Corporation, the University’s principal governing board, with the consent of the University’s Board of Overseers.
The election concludes a wide-ranging and intensive search launched after Larry Bacow’s June announcement that he would step down at the end of the academic year after serving as president since 2018 and as a member of the Harvard Corporation since 2011. The robust and intensive search process formally began in early July, with an email from the search committee to more than 400,000 faculty, students, staff, alumni, higher education leaders, and others well positioned to provide advice.

As chair of the search committee, Pritzker thanked the leaders of the various advisory committees for their work on the search.
“Claudine Gay combines in one person many of the attributes that will be required of Harvard’s new president,” said Shirley Tilghman, who served as president of Princeton University from 2001 to 2013, is professor emerita of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton, and serves on the Harvard Corporation. “She is a brilliant scholar of political science whose commitment to teaching, scholarly excellence, and academic freedom has been unwavering throughout her career. Harvard is lucky to have her at the helm.”
As dean, Gay has worked to expand access to Harvard by enhancing financial aid. Earlier this year, she announced an increase, to $75,000, of the family income threshold below which students admitted to Harvard College can attend for free, with no obligation to pay tuition, room, board, or other fees.
“I want to thank especially the members of the three advisory groups formed to gather additional community-wide input and to offer their own diverse perspectives to the search committee,” wrote Pritzker in her message to the Harvard community. “The members of these three groups — faculty, students, and staff — invested extraordinary time and effort in reaching out to colleagues across the University, and their work produced a range of insights vital to the search committee’s deliberations.”
Pritzker closed her message to the community by recognizing Bacow.
“I would not want to end this message without again thanking Larry Bacow for his outstanding service, as he looks toward his final six months as our president,” she wrote. “His wisdom, judgment, foresight, experience, humility, and values have served Harvard and higher education extraordinarily well during these challenging times, and all of us are deeply in his debt. I know he looks forward to a productive home stretch this spring, and we will have more opportunities to recognize and celebrate his leadership in the months to come.
“For today,” she said, “please join me in congratulating Claudine Gay as our new president-elect.”
Meet Karen Andre. The Haitian-American now helping US President Joe Biden communicate with America has a background in community organizing.
About Harvard University
Founded in 1636, Harvard is devoted to excellence in teaching, learning, and research, and to educating leaders and pursuing scholarship in many disciplines to make a positive difference in communities around the world. The University, which is based in Cambridge and Boston, has an enrollment of more than 20,000 degree candidates, including undergraduate and graduate students. Harvard has more than 360,000 alumni around the world.

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