Appearing Tuesday on “Meet the Press,” MSNBC contributor Symone Sanders-Townsend explained that in her view, the resignation of Harvard President Claudine Gay is “a race issue just as much as it is an issue about antisemitism and Islam.”
While Sanders-Townsend harshly criticized Gay for her testimony in early December at a Republican-led congressional hearing ostensibly about antisemitism, which Sanders-Townsend called “horrific,” she argued that looking at the chain of events leading to Gay’s resignation, “it looks it looks as though she was targeted.”
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Sanders-Townsend’s remarks came after Garrett Haak, who hosted Tuesday’s episode, noted that New York Republican Elise Stefanik, who led the antisemitism hearings, had a ‘gotcha mentality,’ which he said “misses the point.”
“I think the gotcha mentality though is in fact the point,” Sanders-Townsend countered. “Let’s just be very clear, the testimony from the president: Horrific. Horrific. It was absolutely terrible. They answered a human question with an academic answer — that they were prepped by the universities quite frankly to give.
“And law firms,” Republican commentator Doug Heye, a panelist, DDED.
“And law firms, OK? Terrible staff work cross the board,” Sanders-Townsend continued. “On top of that, what happened in the aftermath of that, particularly as it relates to Dr. Gay, the calls came and said she was terrible in this hearing, and she’s unqualified.”
Sanders-Townsend noted that “in 387 years, only two women have been president of Harvard University. One, the first woman, was before Claudine Gay. Only one black woman has been President. And that black woman, now six months after, has resigned from her job because — look at the statement — ‘it’s in the best interests of Harvard to resign so the community can navigate with focus on the institution, rather than an individual.’”
“Harvard decided that it was on whether to unable to continue to weather the storm,” Sanders-Townsend continued. “And while I don’t think the cultural wars frankly that play out on campuses across the country will eventually have a the biggest effect in general come 2024, what will have an effect, as Doug said, is how Jewish students feel on college campuses, how Arab American students feel on college campuses, and how every black professional in America can turn on their television today, see this news about Dr. Claudine Gay, and all have the same reaction. It looks it looks as though she was targeted.”
Heye disagreed, noting that Sanders-Townsend called Gay’s testimony “horrific” and arguing “then we had a series of scandals. She then targeted herself.”
Sanders-Townsend compared the situation to the classified documents scandal that led to one of Donald Trump’s many indictments, explaining that “there’s no protocol in which… a President or Vice President leaves office, and I think if you go to any home of a former President or Vice President, you might accidentally find a classified document. Not necessarily nuclear secrets, but you know, maybe a piece of paper that they shouldn’t have took out.”
Adding that it’s the “same thing” here, Sanders-Townsend said, “look at all what other presidents of Harvard had been investigated for plagiarism. And if we want to be very specific, which I think we should, the issue of plagiarism, it is loose citations. again, not something I want to do.”
After a brief bit of crosstalk with Heye and Haak, Sanders-Townsend added, “I do think this is a race issue just as much as it is an issue about anti semitism and Islam.”
Gay resigned on Tuesday, just under a month after testifying during Stefanik’s antisemitism hearing alongside the presidents of MIT and UPenn. While the hearing containued numerous displays of obvious bad faith by congressional Republicans, the three presidents did themselves no favors either.
Their testimony was often academic to the point of incoherence and as Sanders-Townsend implied, inappropriately legalistic. Despite the immediate uproar that followed, Harvard initially stood by Gay.
However, right wing activists then publicized instances of what they said were plagiarism in her 1997 dissertation — mainly, as defenders have noted, sloppy citations and use of otherwise anodyne phrases contained in other papers. The university later acknowledged there were issues and despite earlier denials, Gay submitted corrections, though as recently as Christmas it continued to back Gay.