If Conservatives Loathe Harvard, Why All the Claudine Gay Outrage?

There’s that saying that individuals shouldn’t stand in the way when the enemy is hanging himself. What’s true for individuals is arguably true in a commercial sense: the stumbles of a competing business represent an opportunity for the business not committing such egregious errors.

This came to mind while reading all the jovial commentary from the right about Claudine Gay’s resignation at Harvard. To use but one example, Manhattan Institute scholar Christopher Rufo’s post-resignation column was titled “How We Squeezed Harvard To Push Claudine Gay Out.” It included ideas for how conservatives can continue to prevail in the “culture wars” by understanding how power works. Color this right-of-center type skeptical.

If we ignore growing conservative comfort with the very “cancel” and “safe space” culture they formerly decried, it’s difficult to countenance the right’s strategy despite Rufo’s obvious glee. Think about it. If Harvard is full of “rot,” or name your pejorative, isn’t the wise approach to get out of the way as the purveyors of the rot continue to promote it?

About what’s being written, none of it should be construed as a defense of Gay. Quite the opposite. While the view here is that students have the right to be stupid, smart, right, or wildly wrong, and that a somewhat sentient Gay would have been clear to Rep. Stefanik that all speech is free at Harvard, it’s not the end of the world to me that Gay wouldn’t say just that, and that she would require “context” in order to know how to deal with chants calling for Jew genocide at Harvard. As a member of the right, I want members of the left to self-ridicule from the highest of high perches. Yet conservatives were loudly calling for the resignation of someone who, by acting as she did, was ably making a conservative case to prospective students about going somewhere else for college. Wasn’t that always the point? 

No doubt conservatives secured their proverbial scalp with the resignation of Gay, but seriously, what changes? One thing that does change is that Gay will no longer be in the president’s seat, which means she’ll lack the perch she formerly had to discredit left-wing thought. That’s a loss, plus let’s not forget that someone like the late John Silber (a famously right leaning President of Boston U.) is unlikely to replace Gay, nor is the makeup of the Harvard faculty likely to change. The only thing that will change is Gay won’t be in the high-profile position she formerly was to make Harvard look bad.

Bret Stephens, one of the few conservatives not calling for Gay’s cancellation, pointed out in the New York Times that Gay “has not written a single book, has published only 11 journal articles in the past 26 years and made no seminal contributions to her field.” He wrote the latter to ask the question how Gay reached “the pinnacle of American academia?” Precisely. Affirmative action seemingly loomed large in Gay getting the job, which yet again raises the question why conservatives would clamor for her resignation. It seems the best way to call affirmative action into question is not by running to the Supreme Court, but by sitting back and allowing affirmative action to reveal its myriad demerits. Don’t force Gay’s resignation, get out of the way so that she can personify the negatives.

Instead, conservatives are aiming to use Gay as a template. For what? By securing her resignation, do they really think they’ll transform Harvard, or college education more broadly? Lest they forget, William F. Buckley published God and Man at Yale about the lefty tilt on campus back in 1951, and uttered his classic line about preferring rule by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book over Harvard and MIT faculty in 1961. These anecdotes are hopefully a useful reminder to conservatives that left-leaning academia didn’t begin with Gay, and surely won’t end with her. It won’t because lefties are much more likely to choose academia than conservatives are, plus there’s a case that the academic status quo boosts the right as is.

Seriously, what better way to discredit left-wing ideology than to sit back and lets its biggest, most prominent names embarrass themselves on the biggest of big stages. Instead, conservatives even more firmly entrenched themselves in the cancel culture they claim to loathe, along with the “safe space” and “trigger” culture that they once claimed to loathe even more. All to remove Gay from the top job? Ok, but wasn’t the point all along to expose Harvard’s demerits? Opportunity lost.

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

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