Harvard names Claudine Gay as first Black president in nearly 400-year history

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(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) — Claudine Gay will be the first person of color and second woman in Harvard University’s 386-year history to serve as president. The social scientist will transition from her role as the Edgerley Family dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences to succeed current university president Larry Bacow in July.

“I’m absolutely humbled by the confidence that the governing board has placed in me. I’m also incredibly humbled by the prospect of succeeding President Bacow in leading this remarkable institution,” Gay said at a university event Thursday to announce her election.

Before becoming a department dean in 2018, Gay, the daughter of Haitian immigrants and Harvard alum, earned her PhD in government, later teaching as a professor of political science, government, and African and African American Studies.

“I can’t help but think of a much younger version of myself–a first year graduate student moving into Haskins Hall lugging the things that seemed most essential to my success at the time: a futon, a Mac Classic II, and a cast iron skillet for frying plantains,” Gay said. “That Claudine could not possibly have imagined that her path would lead here, but I carry forward both her excitement and her belief in the infinite possibility of Harvard.”

Harvard Corporation senior fellow and Presidential Search Committee chair Penny Pritzker said in a letter to the Harvard Community that Gay was one of over 600 nominees for the role considered over the course of a search that started in early July.

“Claudine is a remarkable leader. She’s done outstanding work through unusually challenging times as the dean of Harvard, the largest and most academically diverse faculty,” Pritzker said at the announcement ceremony.

Gay said she imagines an institution in the future that is more connected and inclusive with an even greater impact on the “issues that matter.”

“The idea of the ivory tower, that is the past, not the future of academia. We don’t exist outside of society, but as part of it. And that means that Harvard has a duty to lean in and engage and to be in service to the world,” the president-elect said.

She added, “As I prepare for this next step in my Harvard journey, I do so with the same boundless optimism and our potential to meet this moment of opportunity.”

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