(Boston (AP) — Harvard University announced 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 July 1. She replaces Lawrence Bacow, who is stepping down and has said he wanted to spend more time with family.
“This is crazy, right?” a beaming Gay said as she was introduced to applause at the Smith campus center. She currently serves as the Edgerley Family Dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“I am absolutely humbled by the confidence that the governing board has placed in me,” she said. “I am also incredibly humbled by the prospect of succeeding President Bacow and leading this incredible institution.”
A child of Haitian immigrants, Gay is regarded as a leading voice on the issue of American political participation. Among the issues she has explored is how a range of social and economic factors shape political views and voting. She also is the founding chair 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.
“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,” Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation and chair of Harvard’s presidential search committee, said in a statement.
In her speech, Gay called for greater collaboration among schools at Harvard and said there was an urgency for the university 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. Drew Faust was the first woman to be president at Harvard. A noted historian of the American South and the Civil War, she stepped down in 2018 after 11 years.
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.
Gay’s appointment is remarkable in part because relatively few U.S. universities are led by Black presidents, said Eddie R. Cole, a historian of college presidents and race at the University of California, Los Angeles. Harvard wields outsized influence in higher education, he said, and other universities are bound to take notice.