Harvard’s First Black President Officially Assumes Office

by Xara Aziz
Harvard University

It’s official. Claudine Gay, the first Black woman and first person of color to be appointed president of Harvard University in its 386-year history, has officially assumed office.

 Gay, 52, took on the role on July 1 and has succeeded Lawrence S. Bacow, the 29th president of the institution.

Gay, a highly respected and sought-after distinguished scholar of democracy and political participation was named the University’s newly-elected president last December. The daughter of Haitian immigrants, Gay graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Stanford, where she won the Anna Laura Myers Prize for best undergraduate thesis. Six years later, she was awarded a Ph.D. in government from Harvard and won the Toppan Prize for best dissertation in political science.

Gay is considered an expert in quantitative social science with an emphasis in political behavior and served as an assistant professor and then tenured associate professor at Stanford before coming to Harvard in 2006 as a professor of government. In 2007, she was appointed a professor of African and African American Studies and was named the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government in 2015. She was also dean of social science at Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“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 said at the time of her appointment. “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.”

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.”

She continued: “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 testedYet Harvard has a long history of rising to meet new challenges, of converting the energy of our time into forces of renewal and reinvention.”

“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.”

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