Yesterday we learned that the president of Harvard University, only eight months into her job, resigned.  Claudine Gay was the first black woman to head the prestigious university. 

CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion breaks down the events that led to the resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay.

Some say what toppled her were aggressive questions from a New York  Republican congresswoman; or the fact that she left some footnotes out of an otherwise award-winning thesis; or that she listened more to Palestinian woes than to Israeli ones. 

Her leadership demise follows on that of Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania.  A third president, Sally Kornbluth of MIT, is under pressure to follow.

Congresswoman Stefanik asked Dr. Gay this question: Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment?  Yes or no?  Replied Dr. Gay, “It can be, depending on the context” and added, Antisemitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct that amounts to bullying harassment, intimidation, that is actionable conduct, and we do take action.

For me, the key to her fall was revealed in an interview with the campus newspaper the following day:

What I should have had the presence of mind to do in that moment was return to my guiding truth, which is that calls for violence against our Jewish community—threats to our Jewish students—have no place at Harvard, and will never go unchallenged.

Amid mounting pressure stemming from congressional testimony on antisemitism on Ivy League campuses, CBS News correspondent Nikole Killion tracks ongoing developments.

She confesses that she failed at finding her “guiding truth” and lacked “presence of mind.”

Why did she lack her guiding truth and presence of mind?  Because, like the other two university presidents, she consulted a legal firm before sitting at the congressional inquiry and not her own heart.  The responses of all three before Congress have been called “lawyerly” and “evasive,” “opaque and legalistic.”* 

The lesson here is that LOTS of academia today consults more with legal offices than with their own hearts or sanctuary or….conscience.  To lean on the legal profession today for moral advice and leadership is less than wise.     

Wisdom is rare in academia today, so committed is it to the rational.  Can this change?

Albert Einstein said, “I abhor American education” for this very reason—that it honors only the “rational brain” (his words) and avoids the “intuitive brain” which is where, he insisted, values come from.  Not the intellect, but intuition.  Not evasion but truth.

What is stunning is that all three college presidents went to the very same law firm for advice.  I think that esteemed law firm deserves an F.

*Jennifer SchuesslerAnemona HartocollisMichael Levenson and Alan Blinder, “Harvard President Resigns: Plagiarism Allegations Followed Criticism of Response to Antisemitism,” New York Times, January 2, 2024.

Also see Samantha Delouya, “After Harvard and Penn President Resignations, Focus of Ire Shifts to MIT’s Kornbluth,” CNN, January 3, 2024.

See Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human.

And Fox, “Hildegard and 21st Century Science: Hildegard Meets Einstein, in Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, pp. 45-50.

And Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. xxxii, xxxvii.

Banner Image: Former university presidents Mary Elizabeth Magill (University of Pennsylvania), Claudine Gay (Harvard), and embattled current MIT president Sally Kornbluth. Portraits from the bio pages of their respective universities. 

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree that there is a surplus of evasive, legalistic, overly rational and value-less in much of academia today where knowledge trumps wisdom?  What can be done?

Recommended Reading

The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human

The A.W.E. Project reminds us that awe is the appropriate response to the unfathomable wonder that is creation… A.W.E. is also the acronym for Fox’s proposed style of learning – an approach to balance the three R’s. This approach to learning, eldering, and mentoring is intelligent enough to honor the teachings of the Ancestors, to nurture Wisdom in addition to imparting knowledge, and to Educate through Fox’s 10 C’s. The 10 C’s are the core of the A.W.E. philosophy and process of education, and include: compassion, contemplation, and creativity. The A.W.E. Project does for the vast subject of “learning” what Fox’s Reinvention of Work did for vocation and Original Blessing did for theology. Included in the book is a dvd of the 10 C’s put to 10 video raps created and performed by Professor Pitt.
An awe-based vision of educational renewal.Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century

Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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10 thoughts on “A Sad Day & Important Lesson for Harvard & Academia”

  1. Avatar

    The many voices, varying views and debates that were once the hallmark of higher education / academia are being silenced. Every word, whether written or spoken now has to be carefully measured so as not to offend anyone and in any context, they choose to filter those ‘words’ through. No one is allowed a comeback, an apology, the benefit of the doubt, without grave action taking place that looks past their accomplishments, achievements and past ‘good works’. This is not a debate about looking for legal representation. This is about freedom of speech and the reality that many are offended the majority of time. It is mankind’s / womankind’s desire to live divisively and ill-willed that is the culprit. In the day and age of social media posts and misinformation and any one individual holds little power, but group mentality, perception, one-sidedness and ignorance rules. Wisdom, inclusiveness, compassion and second chances for making amends are in short supply. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    I don’t agree that universities and colleges of today are mainly valueless and legalistic. There are many schools that are not Harvard or MIT and therefore don’t get the attention that more famous schools do. I certainly would not claim to have imparted nothing but wisdom and good values in my thirty years of teaching literature in a regional state university, but I trust that imparting what William Faulkner calls “the eternal verities,” such as love, truth, and courage, was a sizable component of my classes and those of my colleagues. What can be done to correct the defects of higher education? Build on the things that are going right in our universities and remember the eternal verities.

    1. Avatar

      I appreciate your comment because I think it’s an example of how we create the meaning of any experience by choosing to bring to it our guiding light…perhaps what Matthew means was lacking with the college presidents. They were most certainly set up by right-wing Republicans who were politicizing the human atrocity of October 7 – and Stefanik did target them for payback for Harvard kicking her off its board (a job she loved and had been groomed for) when she claimed that Trump had rightfully won the last election. So, I think the college presidents were walking into a trap, no matter what. They could have chosen to follow their guiding light and create the meaning of that experience…but I think that even with what happened and their resignations…even with all that, I think that history will not look favorably on Stefanik. Her questioning was leading and immoral, and to politicize human trauma like that for your own personal agenda is going to weigh quite heavily on her karmic soul. As for the rest of us, we can, as Isabel writes, continue to infuse our experiences with the eternal verities.

  3. Avatar

    Yes, but more importantly is the growth of right wing, racist, congressional leaders in the Republican Party mindlessly continuing to follow Trump, who again is bidding to become an authoritarian/anti-democratic president!

  4. Avatar

    Yes. Very little because a free-thinking person is unlikely to get the job in the first place. We live in a politically-correct world where everything is stage managed. There are pros to this but here we are seeing one of the cons; unless, in this instance, these ladies had allowed their heckles to get up and they had chosen to speak freely, and where they placed their own integrity above the value of the job itself. That takes courage and honesty which, it would seem, they lacked on this occasion. Seeking to be politically safe is the cowards ground.

  5. Avatar

    Thank you for this. One thing I don’t understand is why they are all women. Because there are plenty of male administrators in higher education who are doing the same anti-Semitic things. And why aren’t people talking about that? It’s very odd.

  6. Avatar

    I wonder if it would have mattered what these academic women said in the heat of the moment. No one is perfect, and there are always flaws to be found, which the attack dogs of right wing autocracy will sniff out and use. The intelligentsia are always among the first to be toppled. The atmosphere of complete intolerance to any differing views, as Bill points out, is toxic, and it affects those on the “right” and the “left”. Free speech is under deadly attack. As Paul says, seeking to be politically safe is not brave. Courage, honesty, and integrity is in short supply. But notice, those who do speak up are viciously attacked. We just need more of them. Virtues are turned into vices, and good into evil, and the autocrats carefully turn lies into truth and make themselves the victims.

  7. Avatar
    Mary Elizabeth Heins

    This toppling of respected university presidents is part of the larger conservative campaign to discredit our traditional institutions. Unless we understand that, we get caught up in the smaller issues of race, plaigerism, sexism, etc. which the media runs with.

    Christopher Rufo master-minded this toppling of Gay and McGill, and Kornbluth will probably be next to go. They were targeted by Rufo . He tells his strategy and reasons in unabashed language. If you want it straight from the horses mouth, here it is.

  8. Avatar

    I cannot cheer when a hypocrite “wins” her weaponized “gotcha game” of trying to “prove” that ” (all) left-wing colleges are racist” because a president, under intense fire during a hostile hearing, replied in dry, hair-splitting, careful but cold legalese (trying to prevent lawsuits, which are a favorite game of right-wing, well-funded legal groups). The college president stumbled by not speaking from her heart, but her attacker wanted/needed her to stumble in order to collect a war-trophy of her battle against “the liberals.” Racism was not the point.

    If the same standards were applied to Trump, he’d be immediately hounded out of politics and shamed by all his evangelical Christian followers for saying the most vile, racist, viciously Hitlerian rhetoric — openly and proudly — and for being convicted of rape, boasting of sexual assault, committing adultery, lying about losing the election (and just about everything else), committing years of financial fraud, stealing labor from contractors and lawyers (!) by refusing to pay them, and continuing to eagerly incite violence.

    There IS racism in this country, as Hamas successfully stirred into horrific view. It needs to be dealt with in all its manifestations. Start by condemning it in a man who boasts of it while demanding to be our dictator. Or are his hate and threats less important than a “gotcha meme”?

  9. Avatar

    A picture says a thousand words. Thank you for the picture. I see that these are 3
    WOMEN university presidents. My question is WHY did the universities allow them to resign?
    Especially now when we see there was a concerted right wing effort to do just that.

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