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OPINION: Conservatives want to reshape education in their own image, and they’re winning

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The conservative crusade against all things “woke” has claimed another victim.

On Jan. 2, Claudine Gay, Harvard University’s first Black president, resigned due to the fallout from her statements on antisemitism and accusations of plagiarism. At six months and two days, her tenure as president was the shortest in the school’s almost 390-year history.

The backlash from prominent conservatives helped fan the flames of her demise, but let’s linger on the two main issues for a moment. In the closing moments of the Dec. 5 congressional hearing, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) asked a question: 

“Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules on bullying and harassment?”

To this inquiry, Gay responded, “It can be, depending on the context.”

That’s it. This 10-second interaction is why Harvard’s 30th president is now unemployed. 

Gay is entirely correct here; any potential disciplinary outcome would rely solely on the context of the situation. What I find insidiously genius about Stefanik’s question is that it did two things—first, it framed an incredibly nuanced question as a simple yes-or-no, and second, it masked a question about free speech as one about antisemitism.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) has been touted as a potential running mate for Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

If Gay were to say “yes,” she would be both lying and setting a broad precedent for how to apply Harvard’s code of conduct. If her answer were “no,” she would also be lying and framed as antisemitic and unsupportive of Jewish students.

However, because the question addresses the issue of free speech on campus, she had to say that it depends on context because issues regarding speech have always depended on their contexts. This is the trap Stefanik laid out for Gay. Honestly, it’s a perfect way to audition herself as Trump’s potential running mate.

As for the accusations of plagiarism, the evidence is about as structurally sound as a house of cards. A few “instances of inadequate citation” and “duplicative language without appropriate attribution” (both of which she later corrected) in a 1997 doctoral dissertation seem like another example of conservative critics grasping for straws. While Gay doesn’t have the most substantial academic catalog, these accusations should’ve been of no concern to anyone.

The resignation of Gay is the Republican Party’s latest victory in their war against the education system. For nearly two years, conservatives have waged this war on our nation’s schools, colleges and universities. From Alabama to Wyoming, Republican politicians across the country are on a mission to eradicate all things “woke” (still don’t know what that means) from our learning institutions.

Unfortunately, the Republicans are winning this battle. Our schools will no longer serve as bastions of learning or free speech and expression if conservatives continue to have their way. To save our learning institutions, they must refuse to capitulate to the pressures of conservative outrage and their manufactured, politically motivated culture war on “woke.” 

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About the Contributor
Ethan Leckie, Opinions Editor
A Pad Thai enthusiast, NASCAR follower, and Jon Bois fanboy, Ethan Leckie is a third-year journalism major at the University of North Florida, minoring in international studies. He first began his involvement with Spinnaker as a volunteer reporter in the fall of 2021 and currently holds the position of Opinions Editor. Ethan has always had a passion for writing and hopes to work for a newspaper one day. He enjoys watching YouTube, cooking, and visiting restaurants in his free time. If you see him on campus, ask him about his pieces- he loves to talk about them!

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