In its last issue of 2022, The Crimson, Harvard University’s undergraduate newspaper, ran a column from one of its editors containing the following sentences:
“Like superheroes, Black women are supposed to be reliable and resilient. When buildings are burning and people need to save the day, we are often called on to put the fire out… We run into each crisis with the weight of the world on our shoulders.”
This was a column of celebration. Harvard had just announced that Claudine Gay, the current Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, would be its next president. Gay is the superhero; Harvard is the burning building. When she officially takes over in June, Gay will be the first-ever black president of Harvard.
The Crimson column accidentally captures the scandal in this announcement. Think of everything wrong with higher education: the fetish for diversity at the expense of merit; the rapid expansion of anti-intellectual administrative bloat; the censorship of dissident voices; the popularity of a progressive politics that prefers performing victimhood over making substantive improvements in the lives of real people.
All these trends find their purest manifestation in Claudine Gay.
Consider her “diversity.” It’s the skin-deep “brochure diversity” decried by Justice Samuel Alito in oral argument for Harvard vs. Students for Fair Admissions, the pending Supreme Court case against Harvard.
Harvard stands accused of rigging applicant “personality scores” to artificially cap the number of Asian admits and of considering certain racial categories not merely as the simple “plus factor” approved by existing Court precedent, but as an enormous advantage comparable to hundreds of additional points on the SAT.
Chief Justice John Roberts openly wondered if Harvard’s existing admissions practices effectively lump all black applicants into a homogeneous category of “disadvantaged” and blindly provide them with plus points regardless of personal biography. The existing composition of Harvard’s undergraduate student body certainly seems to substantiate that suspicion.
Roughly 70 percent of black Harvard students come from affluent families. And in the Ivy League overall, fully 41 percent of black students are actually first- and second-generation African immigrants. Affirmative action, originally conceived as a systematic counterbalance to the effects of institutional racism on the descendants of American slaves, is now being used to aid the offspring of, say, a Nigerian orthopedic surgeon or a Dominican senior partner at McKinsey.
Or the daughter of a Haitian engineer, like Gay. Her father came to the United States for college, worked in the Army Corps of Engineers and raised her in upper middle class comfort. After graduating from Exeter, Gay went to Stanford, first as an undergrad then as faculty, and then took a tenured job in the Harvard political science department.
To hear Harvard tell it, Gay has rapidly ascended higher ed because she’s a research rockstar, “one of the Academy’s most creative and rigorous thinkers about vital aspects of democracy and political participation,” as a university press release puts it.
And yet, Gay’s official CV barely breaks three pages, boasts just a handful of poorly cited articles, and is devoid of even a single published book–a bare minimum requirement for a tenured position at most major universities. But, she is “diverse,” a black woman in an academic job market that puts a premium on that particular identity.
Gay’s true talent is not intellectual innovation; it’s administration. Her signature achievement as dean is a campus-wide “Inequality Initiative,” which appears to have done nothing more than host zoom calls and finance endless subcommittee “clusters” and add a couple new positions to the university’s already vast army of “equity, inclusion and belonging” administrators. This is exactly the kind of campaign against inequality easily embraced by an institution sitting on a $60 billion endowment and boasting a single-digit undergraduate admissions rate. It’s utterly unthreatening to the status quo.
Gay’s exact opposite is Roland Fryer. Abandoned at birth by his mom and raised by an alcoholic dad, Fryer is the youngest tenured black economist in Harvard’s history. He eschews empty bureaucracy and woke incantations in favor of hard science, focusing his work on concrete ways to boost black opportunity.
Fryer pursues provocative research lines and reports the results even when they break neat progressive pieties. Most famously, Fryer found that there was no racial bias in police shootings in the Houston police department. Roughly four years ago, Fryer was the victim of a coordinated professional assassination. And as detailed in my team’s documentary investigation about his case, the chief architect of that assassination was none other than Claudine Gay.
It’s tough not to suspect that Gay is a cynical PR prophylactic. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears ready to strike down as unconstitutional the school’s existing racial preference regime. If it does, black representation among the undergraduate study body is expected to fall precipitously, from 15 percent today to possibly as low as three percent.
An empty diversity hire may be exactly what Harvard wants: a bureaucrat with the right skin tone to keep that $60 billion endowment steadily growing -- and to distract from all the ways the university fails to advance true equality and opportunity.
Rob Montz is co-founder and CEO of Good Kid Productions. Find his new mini-doc, “The Broken Boys of Kenosha: Jacob Blake, Kyle Rittenhouse, and the Lies We Still Live By.”