Harvard University announced on Thursday that Claudine Gay will become its 30th president, making her the first Black person and the second woman to lead the Ivy League school.
Gay, who is currently a dean at the university and a democracy scholar, will become president on 1 July. She replaces Lawrence Bacow, who is stepping down to spend more time with family.
A child of Haitian immigrants, Gay is regarded as a leading voice on the issue of American political participation. In 2006, she joined Harvard as a professor of government and of African and African American studies and has since explored a variety of issues, including how a range of social and economic factors shape political views and voting.
Gay is also is the founding chair of Harvard’s inequality in America initiative, which studies issues like the effects of child poverty and deprivation on educational opportunity and American inequality from a global perspective.
“She is a terrific academic leader with a keen mind, great leadership and communication skills, excellent judgment, and a basic decency and kindness that will serve Harvard well,” Bacow said in a statement. “Perhaps most importantly, she commands the respect of all who know her and have worked with her.”
Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of Harvard’s presidential search committee, echoed similar sentiments, saying, “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.”
In her acceptance speech, Gay called for greater collaboration among schools at Harvard and said there was an urgency for the university to be more engaged with the world and to “bring bold, brave and pioneering thinking to our greatest challenges”.
“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,” she said. “That means that Harvard has a duty to lean in, engage and to be of service to the world.”
With Gay’s appointment, women will outnumber men as chiefs of the eight Ivy League schools. Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania appointed women earlier this year, joining Brown and Cornell. Columbia, Princeton and Yale are led by men.
Gay will be the only Black president currently in the Ivy League and the second Black woman ever, following Ruth Simmons, who led Brown University from 2001 to 2012.