ESTRICH: Why is Claudine Gay still the president of Harvard?

It’s time for Claudine Gay to step down as president of Harvard University.

The embattled new president, only six months into the job, has failed. If she were a student, she’d be expelled. Plagiarism is not OK for students. Why should it be OK for the president? Supposedly, she is going to revise her past scholarly work — plagiarism not only infects her dissertation but her other writings — an answer that would simply not do if she were a student. She was, her defenders claim, only messy and sloppy, not someone who appropriated the ideas of others as her own. As if that is good enough. It isn’t. Her record as a scholar who has never written a book, and who has been messy and sloppy in what she has written, is simply inadequate to qualify her to lead a great university. And her ability to serve as a moral leader is utterly lacking.

That lack of leadership was on painful display in the Congressional hearing, where she admits herself that she failed in not responding to a question about whether advocating the genocide — that is, the mass murder — of Jews would violate the university’s rules. It depends on the “context,” she said, as if any context would justify genocide.

Indeed, the real question is why she is still president.

The painfully obvious answer is because she is a Black woman, and that answer, if it isn’t enough to fire her, is why she should resign. Her continued presence at the helm only reinforces all the wrong reasons for her presence.

To be sure, university presidents spend a good deal of their time as fundraisers, which does not always involve moral leadership, but on that score, too, she fails. Only last week, another billionaire, international philanthropist Len Blavatnik, the richest man in the U.K., joined the list of billionaires who are closing their checkbooks to Harvard because of the twin scandals — antisemitism on campus (which most assuredly is not a matter of context) and plagiarism. If President Gay ever had moral authority, she has lost it completely.

And this is no time for university presidents with no moral authority. Apologizing for her tongue-tied answers at the House hearing only underscores her failure. So does cleaning up her sloppy and messy (to put it gently) academic record.

There are some who say that it is time for college presidents to stand up and push back against their donors — shorthand for their Jewish donors. I could not disagree more. The argument fails because what the Jewish donors are asking for is moral leadership on the part of university leaders to set a tone in which all students feel safe. Much has been written about how pro-Palestinian students are complaining that they don’t feel heard on campuses. Certainly, universities are places where open and free exchanges of ideas should be fostered. But what the donors are hearing is what I’m hearing, too: that it is the Jewish students who are being threatened and silenced and isolated by the pro-Palestinian voices of faculty and students. And that the Jewish students are understandably afraid.

President Gay set up a committee to deal with antisemitism on campus. One of its most prominent members, Rabbi David Wolpe, resigned last week, telling an interviewer that he was uncomfortable being perceived as the “voice of the Jewish community” on the panel. “I was left with a job that had a lot of accountability and no authority.” Combating the troubles at schools like Harvard and Penn is more than the work of any committee. It is, as Rabbi Wolpe pointed out, “the task of educating a generation, and also a vast unlearning.”

It must begin with the person at the top. The fish rots from the head. More than an apology and additional citations are required. Claudine Gay is not the person for the job.