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Keller: Self-congratulatory statement on Claudine Gay's resignation shows Harvard is clueless

Keller: Harvard has world-class problems that need fixing
Keller: Harvard has world-class problems that need fixing 01:23

CAMBRIDGE - "These past several months have seen Harvard and higher education face a series of sustained and unprecedented challenges," reads the statement on President Claudine Gay's resignation from the Corporation, the university's ruling body. "In the face of escalating controversy and conflict, President Gay and the Fellows have sought to be guided by the best interests of the institution whose future progress and well-being we are together committed to uphold."

English translation: after initially circling the wagons around their poorly vetted choice for the presidency, the nabobs in charge of the world's most famous university are getting so much flak from wealthy alumni and donors and watching their corporate brand suffer so much damage that they decided to pull the plug.

This would seem to be their fiduciary duty. We cannot and perhaps never will know for sure how much money they've lost from Gay's embarrassing December 5th congressional testimony failing to explain Harvard's utter failure to tamp down antisemitic bullying of Jewish students on campus and subsequent revelations about her propensity for appropriating the writing of others as her own. Harvard is one of the most opaque institutions going, protecting its secrets with a zeal unmatched by its efforts to protect its students.

But it is typical of Harvard that the Corporation couldn't just announce Gay's removal - excuse me, "resignation" - and wish her well without shoveling a pile of self-congratulatory rhetoric on top. 

There was no need to say, "we thank President Gay for her deep and unwavering commitment to Harvard and to the pursuit of academic excellence." The former is demonstrated by her fall onto her sword; the latter, in light of the dozens of plagiarism allegations and the university's efforts to cover them up, is a dubious claim to say the least.

It was inappropriate to add a riff about Gay's "remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks." Tough questioning from trolling Members of Congress? What did she or anyone else expect was going to happen? And there was no need to raise the issue of "racist vitriol directed at her through disgraceful emails and phone calls," as if the type of garbage that most public figures and even private citizens venturing into the social media sewers routinely experience was somehow part of this story.

Ms. Gay could have handled all this better, but she seemed to keep her poise pretty well, refraining from lashing out publicly at any of her critics. Why is this deemed "remarkable resilience"? Her counterparts at UPenn and MIT also kept their cool. Is their "resilience" remarkable too?

And when it comes to pandering, you can't beat the Corporation's concluding thank you to the entire Harvard community "for your continuing commitment to Harvard's vital educational and research mission – and to core values of excellence, inclusiveness, and free inquiry and expression. At a time when strife and division are so prevalent in our nation and our world, embracing and advancing that mission – in a spirit of common purpose -- has never been more important. We live in difficult and troubling times, and formidable challenges lie ahead. May our community, with its long history of rising through change and through storm, find new ways to meet those challenges together, and to affirm Harvard's commitment to generating knowledge, pursuing truth, and contributing through scholarship and education to a better world."

This self-congratulatory word salad perfectly expresses the cluelessness with which Harvard has been navigating the "storm" - professing a commitment to "excellence" while tolerating widespread grade-inflation; promoting "inclusiveness, free inquiry and expression" when a national study of free speech climates on campus rated Harvard dead last among 254 schools; and "pursuing truth" when the backlash over recent events has been all about the university's refusal to accept the truth of its own negligence in policing campus bullying and applying scholarship standards to its own president.

History will show that Harvard did Claudine Gay wrong by not vetting her properly and dropping her into a situation she was ill-equipped to handle without, it seems, much of anything in the way of guidance. But it's all the fault of reprehensible others and has nothing at all to do with their own incompetence and lagging standards.

Where does veritas go to get its reputation back?

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