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Claudine Gay elected first Black president of Harvard University

Claudine Gay, a widely admired higher education leader and distinguished scholar of democracy and political participation, will become the 30th president of Harvard University on July 1.

Gay was elected to the presidency today by the Harvard Corporation, the University’s principal governing board, with the consent of the University’s Board of Overseers. The election concludes a wide-ranging and intensive search launched after Larry Bacow’s June announcement that he would step down at the end of the academic year after serving as president since 2018 and as a member of the Harvard Corporation since 2011.

Speaking after her election, Gay said, “I am humbled by the confidence that the governing boards have placed in me and by the prospect of succeeding President Bacow in leading this remarkable institution. It has been a privilege to work with Larry over the last five years. He has shown me that leadership isn’t about one person. It’s about all of us, moving forward together, and that’s a lesson I take with me into this next journey.

“Today, we are in a moment of remarkable and accelerating change — socially, politically, economically, and technologically,” said Gay. “So many fundamental assumptions about how the world works and how we should relate to one another are being tested.

“Yet Harvard has a long history of rising to meet new challenges, of converting the energy of our time into forces of renewal and reinvention,” she continued. “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. There is an urgency for Harvard to be engaged with the world and to bring bold, brave, pioneering thinking to our greatest challenges.

“As I start my tenure, there’s so much more for me to discover about this institution that I love, and I’m looking forward to doing just that, with our whole community.”

“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,” said Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of Harvard’s presidential search committee. “As the Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 2018, and previously as dean of social science, Claudine has brought to her roles a rare blend of incisiveness and inclusiveness, intellectual range and strategic savvy, institutional ambition and personal humility, a respect for enduring ideals, and a talent for catalyzing change. She has a bedrock commitment to free inquiry and expression, as well as a deep appreciation for the diverse voices and views that are the lifeblood of a university community.

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.

The daughter of Haitian immigrants, 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.

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