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Harvard student journalist on the fallout of university president's testimony


After the president of the University of Pennsylvania resigned over the weekend, Harvard's president is now under pressure to do the same. This comes after they testified before Congress about increasing antisemitism on college campuses. Here's an exchange Harvard's president, Claudine Gay, had with Republican Representative Elise Stefanik of New York.


ELISE STEFANIK: And, Dr. Gay, at Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard's rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?

CLAUDINE GAY: It can be, depending on the context.

STEFANIK: What's the context?

GAY: Targeted as an individual, targeted at an individual.

SHAPIRO: Harvard's governing body is meeting today to discuss Gay's future. Miles Herszenhorn is a junior who's covering the story for the university newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. Thanks for joining us.

MILES HERSZENHORN: Thank you for having me on.

SHAPIRO: Can you describe how the student body has reacted to the president's testimony from last week?

HERSZENHORN: It's tough to get a really good sense of where the student body is at, partially because we're in the middle of finals season at Harvard. And everybody is holed up in libraries, focused on their studies. I do believe that there is increasing support for Claudine Gay coming from the student body, especially now that people are becoming aware that it is very possible that her presidency is in peril. But for the most part, the student body has been a little bit more silent than perhaps lawmakers in Washington or even more vocal alumni on social media.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think the students are expressing support for her? What do they say when you talk to them?

HERSZENHORN: Yeah. Some people are really concerned that her presidency might be coming to an end. She has not completed her first semester in office as president. The fact that she might be asked to resign before then is really remarkable. But I think some students believe that this does not rise to the level where she should be forced to step down. And I think we are hearing more and more people speak up.

SHAPIRO: You and your fellow reporters interviewed President Gay, and she apologized about her testimony. Can you tell us more about that conversation and what else you learned from it?

HERSZENHORN: Definitely. My colleague Claire and I sat down with President Gay, and she told us that she was sorry for the impact that it had on students. President Gay went to Washington and agreed to testify, in part because she hoped it would quell the controversy against Harvard. But her testimony had the complete opposite effect. Immediately afterwards, Harvard Hillel, the university's Jewish center, released a statement saying that her remarks during the hearing called into question her ability to keep Jewish students safe on this campus.

SHAPIRO: Just to take a step back, she only took office in July. She is the first Black president in Harvard history. If you could describe what her tenure has been like, apart from this controversy, how would you characterize it?

HERSZENHORN: It's important to remember that she assumed the presidency two days after the Supreme Court ruled against Harvard in a landmark affirmative action case that effectively ended the use of affirmative action in higher education admissions. That was the crisis, and that was the controversy that she was hired to steer Harvard through. What nobody was expecting was that this backlash over the university's response to the fighting in Israel and Gaza would occur, and that she would have to steer Harvard through a different controversy. And it seems to be really clear, at least from looking at the initial days after she took office, that she wanted to be on campus, meet students, meet members of the faculty. And even though that's what she wants to be doing, time and time again, she has been distracted by controversies and scandals that she really wishes should not have to face.

SHAPIRO: Miles Herszenhorn is a reporter for The Harvard Crimson. Thank you so much for your reporting.

HERSZENHORN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Kathryn Fox
Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.