Does the downfall of Harvard’s president mark the death throes of woke?

As 2024 begins, it’s hard not to notice that wokeness is a religion in decline.

The data points are all around us — whether seen in a growing awareness of the futility of transgender surgery, the hypocrisy of elite climate panic peddlers, falling support for same-sex relationships, or the dawning realisation that the cult’s high priests would sooner support Hamas terrorists than the babies they murder.

But there is no clearer sign of wokery’s demise than the resignation, on Tuesday, of Harvard head Claudine Gay, whose six-month tenure at the post made her the shortest-lived president in the university’s almost 400-year illustrious history.

Indeed, the fall of Gay may be regarded by future generations as the day woke died; an easily identified endpoint of a hapless movement that ate itself alive.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself — but hey, it’s nice to dream.

In any case, the events of Gay’s downfall are worthy of a brief recap.

The first major public scandal to tar her name was the widespread, boisterous support offered to Hamas by hundreds of Harvard students, seen in weeks of on-campus protests and an appalling open letter released by more than 30 student groups.

At that juncture, Gay had the choice of condemning the rampant antisemitism that had taken root under her watch, or of suddenly resurrecting Harvard’s long-abandoned commitment to free speech in time to accommodate Jew-haters everywhere.

Inexplicably, she chose the latter.

In a train-wreck testimony on Capitol Hill in December, Gay declared that calling for a genocide against the Jews was permissible at Harvard under reasonably generous conditions.

Another Ivy League bigwig who gave equally self-incrimination testimony on the same day — Liz Magill, President of the University of Pennsylvania — resigned in disgrace just a few days later.

If you can’t imagine things getting worse for Gay at that point, you need a better imagination.

Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon, with strategic support from anti-woke crusader Christopher Rufo, launched a deep-dive investigation into allegations of plagiarism that had also been plaguing the beleaguered Harvard president.

What they found was damning, and what began as a trickle soon turned into a torrent. By the time Sibarium and Rufo were done, they had amassed nearly 50 allegations of plagiarism against Claudine Gay — some of them petty, but most of them clear-as-day violations of Harvard’s own standards of academic integrity.

Such a serial plagiariser was Gay, it turns out, that over half of her published works as an academic had been implicated in the scandal. She was even found to have committed plagiarism on the acknowledgments page of her dissertation.

All the while, the corporate media was shilling hard for their avatar of diversity, calling Gay’s plagiarism “duplicative language” and “quotations without quotation marks” — any euphemism that would stick; anything but what it was.

All the while, race hustlers blamed the rest of us for noticing, claiming our criticism of Harvard’s head was driven by racism (yawn) and not Gay’s many, obvious, very public failings.

All the while, the Harvard Corporation — which had quite evidently hired Gay for her gender and race and not her academic merit — dug deeper and deeper in futile defence of their president, claiming to have already investigated her wrongdoings and found her not culpable.

(Of course, the New York Post soon reported that Harvard’s leadership had secretly sent their office a threatening legal letter to squash further investigations into Gay’s plagiarism).



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If all that were not enough, when Gay finally offered her letter of resignation, she issued zero apologies to the academics whose ideas she had pilfered, made more than three dozen references to herself, and castigated her critics for their “racial animus”.

On brand, the Harvard Corporation likewise accused Gay’s critics of racism rather than owning the disaster they had orchestrated.

Summarising the whole sordid affair, Harvard alum and billionaire Bill Ackman — who helped spearhead the campaign for reform at the university — has warned:

“Claudine Gay’s ouster won’t change things. The college needs a complete overhaul, starting with a resignation of the board and the removal of DEI from every corner of the institution.”

Ackman is right. In the best interests of Harvard and American higher learning more generally, true reform would mean a complete flush-out of the entire leadership group that defended Claudine Gay and the university’s inglorious descent into DEI madness.

Bull in a china shop that he is, Christopher Rufo has cheekily offered his services to “join the [Harvard] Corporation to help turn it around.” Rufo’s offer makes sense: he has already helped oversee some not insignificant victories in Florida’s university system.

Quietly, I’d love to see Rufo join the Harvard Corporation — and watch as the whole rotten structure is renewed from the inside out.

Maybe it’s too much to ask. But hey, it’s nice to dream.  

Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor. 

Image credits:  screenshot CBS News 


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  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-13 12:18:24 +1100
    Thank you Steven. I am learning something.
    I know nothing of Augustine of Hippo. I shall do some research.
    Re Muhammad being a made up character: it’s a very realistic possibility.

    As you can tell, I am very critical of ‘official’ religions abusing their power – whether it’s Islam or Christianity. However I still attend Church regularly. It gives me ’spiritual soul food’, I feel more content and connected with God and most of the people I meet there are really good, kind and generous people – that includes my visit to Adelaide Mosque (another story).
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-13 11:44:35 +1100
    Your division into moral, ceremonial and civil law corresponds loosely with the way Orthodox Rabbis think about the Torah and the “Oral Law.”

    Of course they don’t think of Jesus as an “update” but that’s another matter.

    Look, thank you for your compliments but I am far from the first to understand there are difficulties in understanding the Bible. In my view one of the most remarkable men who ever lived was Augustine of Hippo. It’s a pity Christians don’t learn about him anymore.

    Anyway, 1600 years ago Augustine wrote “On the Literal Meaning of Genesis” which every Christian should read. Here is my favourite quote:

    [Start Quote]

    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

    Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

    [End Quote]

    Now I’ll leave you with something else.

    Did Muhammad actually exist?

    I used to take that for granted but it turns out the contemporaneous evidence is quite weak. What is more there is some evidence he was a made up character. The rulers of the Arab Empire knew how Constantine and Justinian used Christianity to unify the Roman Empire and manufactured a religion to unify their own.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-13 10:52:42 +1100

    I am impressed by your level of knowledge of the Bible. As I suspected, you are a thinking atheist.

    I completely agree that translation (and therefore the meaning) of the Bible is far more of an art than a science. This is why I get pissed off with those who cherry-pick the Bible to find ’support’ for enforcing their particular beliefs. This tends to include ‘official’ Christians.

    For me the Bible is a complete story of philosophy, wisdom, poetry and history from oral tradition before writing, to the start of Christianity – before it became a lever of power and influence in the Roman Empire. The Bible is like a TV series. You can happily watch random episodes, but you don’t get the point of the whole story until you’ve seen them all – preferably in order.

    I like the idea of separating ‘laws’ into: ‘Moral Law’ (essentially the Ten Commandments and sermon on the mount), ‘Ceremonial Law (eg: religious sacrifices, fasting, circumcision, etc) and ‘Civil Law’ (eg: land rights, drive on the left, debt repayment, appropriate punishments, etc). I like the idea that these Old Testament laws were designed for ancient nomadic hunter gatherers, so Jesus came along to update the whole thing; ie:
    - Jesus came to ’fulfil the Ceremonial Laws’ by dying on the cross (Matt 5:17-18)
    - Jesus effectively handed over Civil Law to governments: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars” (Matt 22:15-22)
    - and Jesus concentrated on teaching the ‘Moral Law’, which is the basis of Christianity today.

    Under this Christian framework, western society has done extraordinarily well over the last 2000 years. We now know how to completely destroy the world and us with it! Perhaps it’s time for a another personal visit from God :-)
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-12 22:46:23 +1100
    Sorry, don’t know why the capitalisation came out the way it did.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-12 22:45:08 +1100
    Fair enough. However you are in a minority among people who identify as Christian.

    Some Catholic theologians justify their opposition to abortion based on Psalm 51:5 in the “Old” Testament but their translation/interpretation makes no sense to me.

    On the contrary, in the Torah it looks as if the killing of a foetus – eg by punching a pregnant woman – was considered a civil offence against the father who was entitled to damages for the loss of the foetus. (The woman seemingly was not entitled to anything as a consequence of being punched)

    Exodus 21:22-25

    22 And should men quarrel and HIT A PREGNANT WOMAN AND SHE MISCARRIES BUT THERE IS NO FATALITY, he shall surely be punished, when the woman’s husband makes demands of him, and he shall give [restitution] according to the judges’ [orders].

    23But if there is a fatality, you shall give a life for a life,

    24an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot,

    25a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.

    (My capitalisation)

    So a woman’s miscarriage was NOT regarded as a fatality:

    Of course we are reading a translation. There was no Hebrew word for miscarriage. The actual Hebrew reads וְיָֽצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ which can be translated as “child exited her”. The New Catholic Bible translates this as “loses her child” which is probably better.

    In case you’re interested verses 20-21 read:

    20And should a man strike his manservant or his maidservant with a rod, and [that one] die under his hand, he shall surely be avenged.

    21But if he survives for a day or for two days, he shall not be avenged, because he is his property.

    The word for “his manservant” is עַבְדּ֜וֹ which could mean “his servant” or “his slave”.

    The word for “his maidservant” is אֲמָתוֹ֙ which could mean “his mother” but, in this context, probably means “his concubine.”

    As you can see, translation from biblical Hebrew is more art than science.

    The same applies, of course, to translation from Quoin Greek. In this case there is a double translation. Jesus and his disciples would have spoken Aramaic. Someone wrote it down in Quoin Greek.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-12 18:56:27 +1100

    My general thinking is that everything is ‘legal’ until someone makes it ‘illegal’.

    My immediate (and not fully thought through) response therefore is that I would vote for neither of them. I would however vote for someone who says they will abolish all civil laws to do with the moral question of abortion.

    As far as I know, Jesus never mentioned abortion in the Bible. So I would say there is no biblical ‘moral law’ reason for Christians to opt for candidate A.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-12 18:30:27 +1100
    “As a believer in God and currently a follower of Christianity I would never try to impose my beliefs on you”

    Well, let’s put that to the test.

    You live in a jurisdiction in which abortion on demand during the first trimester is legal.

    There is an election.

    Candidate A says he will introduce legislation to outlaw abortion.

    Candidate B has similar policies to candidate A except that he proposes leaving abortion legal.

    Everything else being equal, which one gets your vote?

    As we know, most people who identify as Christian would opt for candidate A.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-12 18:06:51 +1100

    I think you have nailed the whole problem with an excellent example.

    As the philosophical Bible story puts it, Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge against God’s advice and learned there is a difference between good and evil. The problem is they were not smart enough to know what the difference is. Hence we end up fighting, each of us convinced we know what is right and what is wrong.

    Religious leaders over history have made it even worse by trying to enforce their beliefs on everyone.

    As a believer in God and currently a follower of Christianity I would never try to impose my beliefs on you. Maybe that means I am not ‘religious’?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-12 15:01:18 +1100
    What indeed is a “better place.”

    And I may as well go straight to the most contentious issue of all, Abortion.

    For many people – in western countries probably most people – a world in which a woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy – to kill her foetus if you like – is a better place than one in which it is illegal.

    For others, abortion is an abomination and the world would be a better place if the law compelled women to continue with their pregnancy and to care for the child.

    Now to keep the discussion within bounds I am going to talk about abortions that meet the following criteria:

    —There are no known health issues – the prognosis is for a healthy baby to be born to a healthy mother.

    —The sole reason for the termination is that the pregnant woman, for whatever reason, does not wish to continue with the pregnancy.

    —The abortion occurs during the first trimester.

    Now what reason is there for criminalising abortions that meet these criteria?

    The Southern Baptists say “ensoulment” occurs at conception. In other words, the moment a sperm fertilises an egg that single cell has a soul.

    Catholics say human life occurs at conception. Since Catholics believe that every human has a soul, this sounds like a different way of saying the same thing.

    So by terminating a pregnancy, so Southern Baptists and Catholics and many other religious factions believe, you are killing an actual human because it has a human soul.

    For them abortion = killing a human being with a soul = murder

    If that is your belief and you decide you will never have an abortion, or in any way facilitate an abortion, I have no quarrel with you.

    The problem arises when you want to compel a woman who does not share your beliefs to:

    —(1) Continue with a pregnancy


    —(2) Care for the resultant child.

    Now I do not believe this doctrine. Except in a metaphorical sense, I see no evidence for the existence of souls. I don’t believe they exist.

    There is no way I can regard a single cell as being a human being. Yes, it is a potential human being. But that is not the same as actually being a human.

    What about 2 cells? 4,cells? How many cells before you have an actual, as opposed to potential, human?

    And, leaving the question of souls aside, what does it mean to be human?

    Again, I can’t give you a definitive answer. Nobody can.

    But I’ll give you my personal answer

    At 13 weeks a foetus is about three inches long. There is simply not enough brain and neuronal development to regard the foetus as is being, in any meaningful sense, an actual as opposed to potential, human.

    For what it’s worth to me a foetus becomes an actual human when consciousness develops. I don’t see how this can be before the thalamus is connected to the sense organs which occurs at about 24 weeks.

    So now explain to me by what right you can compel a woman who does not share your beliefs about the existence of a soul to continue with an unwanted pregnancy during the first trimester?

    Can you offer any evidence for the existence of a soul in the Christian sense of the word?

    And no red herring please.

    None of these arguments:

    —Many women regret having an abortion – we all have our regrets about all sorts of decisions we make.

    —If consciousness is a criterion is it OK to kill people with advanced dementia – The question of how long we prolong human life at the other end is a profound and difficult to answer But it is a different question.

    —Women who have babies are generally happier and healthier – this may or may not be true but we do all sorts of things that are bad for our health and happiness. Getting fat is bad for your health.

    If you can demonstrate that actual souls – in the Christian sense of the word – exist and a fertilised egg has such a soul I’ll change my mind.

    Until you can do that you’re merely another religious person attempting to impose your beliefs on me.

    And therein lies the problem.

    Remember, I respect your right to hold your beliefs beliefs and live accordingly. I would no more compel you to facilitate an abortion any more than I would compel an adult Jehovah’s Witness to accept a blood transfusion.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-12 12:14:12 +1100
    Steven Meyer

    I pretty much agree with everything you said.

    However I wonder if you are making the same mistake I did in confusing God with religion. Humans have always believed in God (or Gods) and it’s only recently that many of us have stopped.

    Apparently the Dalai Lama, in conversation with Bishop Muzorewa, said “different religions are just different paths up the mountain to meet God”. To me this means religions are like fast food franchises each one furiously promoting their own brand of spiritual soul food as being the best (or only!) path. For me, the Bible was full of ancient wisdom and philosophy about life in general, most of it still relevant today.

    I also totally agree with you that we should all do our best to make this world a better place. The only problem I have with it is: what does that actually mean? and who decides what is better?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-12 09:23:28 +1100
    Rob McKilliam & mrscracker

    I do not know what could make me to believe that the creator of the universe, assuming such an entity exists, got incarnated as an itinerant preachers 2,000 ago, that he went went around performing miracles including raising Lazarus from the dead and then resurrected himself after dying on a cross. Certainly reading about it in some ancient texts won’t cut it.

    Nor do I believe the the creator, again assuming such a being exists, would give his “last prophet” the power to split the moon and put it back together.

    In fact I don’t know what could get me to believe any of the miracle stories in the bible or koran.

    I cannot prove there is no afterlife but it seems to me highly unlikely. In fact so unlikely that I don’t bother thinking about it.

    Why are we here? Why is there something rather than nothing?

    I don’t know. I don’t think anybody can answer that question. When people give me an answer based on some religion may answer is, “I prefer my real ignorance to your fake certainties.”

    Whatever the reason, assuming there is a reason, here we are.

    So what now?

    In this vast universe we are orphans in both space and time. All we have is our short lives, each other and this one spinning rock. We should be kind to each other and our rock.

    Personally I am not interested in any afterlife. For me a good life is doing my best to make THIS WORLD a slightly better place.

    And here’s the choice facing everyone. You can do your best to make THIS WORLD a better place.

    Or not.
  • John Joseph
    commented 2024-01-10 19:35:16 +1100
    Stupidity is not confined to the uneducated. A university education is no panacea for stupidity either. Gay and the Harvard Board have given us a grand display of stupidity that can only be propped up by being too stupid to realise that the average person in the street can recognise stupidity when they see it and that recognition is only reinforced when the stupid stupidly resort to blatantly obvious dishonesty in an attempt to hide their stupidity.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-10 10:05:16 +1100
    Steven Meyer, the good thing about atheists, as I was, is that they think.
    In 2019 I read the Bible from beginning to end with an open mind to find out why it is the most influential book in History. I am now a committed Christian. To explain why I wrote a brief paper for my bemused children. I can send you a copy if you like.
  • mrscracker
    No Mr. Steven, atheists like you are not bogeymen, you are the next person to share the Good News with.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-09 22:12:31 +1100
    Well Rob McKilliam, maybe atheists – like me – will be the next bogeymen.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-08 20:13:42 +1100
    God willing there will be no more ‘bogeymen’. Instead there will be a return to belief in and following of God.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-08 17:44:47 +1100
    For what it’s worth the DEI fad seems to be receding

    Attacks on DEI are spreading to the corporate world
    Critics are rallying to gut these policies, going as far as to deem them “reverse racism.”

    “…data suggests some companies are already pivoting. By mid-2023, DEI-related job postings had dropped 44% compared to the prior year, according to data from Indeed, while tech giants like Meta and Google have significantly scaled back diversity programs”

    So, on to the next bogeyman. Could “cultural Marxism” get a rerun?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-08 16:16:05 +1100
    So what’s the next bogeyman after “wokery”?

    How about the people who put little sticky labels on apples? I find them very annoying.
  • Peter Faehrmann
    commented 2024-01-06 20:24:04 +1100
    The plebiscite called by Malcolm Turnbull to gauge Australians taste for same sex marriage led to the degendering of marriage. We were assured “it is only about same sex marriage”. The push for transgenderism followed. Teachers have usurped parents’ rights. Parents have been told they cannot attempt to counsel their children, affected by gender dysphoria, to reconsider, at the risk of their children being removed from their care. People suffering sexual identity confusion are forbidden to seek psychiatric help. Aussies have realised they’ve been sold a woke pup. The failure of the recent referendum for The Voice to Parliament, is as much a protest against the transgender debacle, as it is an indication of the average punter’s distrust of politicians.
  • Rob McKilliam
    commented 2024-01-06 10:30:40 +1100
    Enjoyable article thanks Kurt. I hope you are right.
  • mrscracker
    I think the issue of racism in regard to the resignation of Harvard’s president is similar to the relationship of anti Semitism & those who oppose George Soros. There are some dots to be connected but, in either case, race & ancestry are more circumstantial than critical.
    Leaders of institutions of higher learning who can’t clearly condemn genocide & billionaires who fund global feticide would be/should be opposed by human rights activists no matter what their complexion or ethnicity.