News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Dec. 16, 2022: The daughter of Caribbean immigrants from Haiti has made history as the first black, and Caribbean American president of Harvard University.
“With the strength of this extraordinary institution behind us, we enter a moment of possibility, one that calls for deeper collaboration across the University, across all of our remarkable Schools,” President Claudine Gay commented on her election. “There is an urgency for Harvard to be engaged with the world and to bring bold, brave, pioneering thinking to our greatest challenges.”
Gay will become the 30th president of Harvard University on July 1st. Her appointment was greeted by joyous hoots and a thundering ovation, Claudine Gay, Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, where she spoke before an ebullient crowd Thursday afternoon at Smith Campus Center for the first time as the University’s 30th president-elect.
Gay spoke of her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti. “They came to the U.S. with very little and put themselves through college while raising our family,” she said. “My mom became a registered nurse and my dad a civil engineer, and it was the City College of New York that made those careers possible. … My parents believed that education opens every door.”
Gay will be the first African American and only the second woman to lead Harvard in its 386-year history. Her selection comes after current President Larry Bacow announced in June that he would step down at the close of 2022-2023 academic year after five years as president.
Adopting recommendations from the Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery report will create “an opportunity for reckoning and repair” and give the University a chance to build deep connections to the scholarly communities at historically Black colleges and universities and other “minority-serving institutions,” she added.
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. A quantitative social scientist with expertise in political behavior, Gay served as an assistant professor and then tenured associate professor at Stanford before being recruited to Harvard in 2006 as a professor of government. She was also appointed a professor of African and African American Studies in 2007. She was named the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government in 2015, when she also became dean of social science at FAS.
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, enhance aspects of academic culture, and bring new emphasis and energy to areas such as quantum science and engineering; climate change; ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration; and the humanities.
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. The disruptive effects of the crisis notwithstanding, 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 in FAS and to advance academic excellence in the years ahead.
“Claudine is a remarkable leader who is profoundly devoted to sustaining and enhancing Harvard’s academic excellence, to championing both the value and the values of higher education and research, to expanding opportunity, and to strengthening Harvard as a fount of ideas and a force for good in the world,” commented Penny Pritzker, chair of the presidential search committee.
Gay is married to Dr. Christopher Afendulis, an expert in health care policy. They have a son. Founded in 1636, Harvard is based in Cambridge and Boston. A report found that “over nearly 150 years, from the university’s founding in 1636 until the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found slavery unlawful in 1783, Harvard presidents and other leaders, as well as its faculty and staff, enslaved more than 70 individuals, some of whom labored on campus.”