Should Harvard’s Claudine Gay Get A Severance Package If Fired?

Embattled Harvard President Claudine Gay is under fire for not protecting the safety of Jewish students on Harvard's campus. She is also under scrutiny for multiple incidences of writing “duplicative content,” which is a euphemism for plagiarism. As a result, many are calling for her firing. But if she gets fired, does she deserve to get a severance package?

As someone who wrote How To Engineer Your Layoff, the definitive book on how to negotiate a severance package, let me share my opinion on whether Claudine Gay should get a severance package or not. Since 2012, my book has helped thousands of disengaged workers negotiate a severance and be free to do something else.

Pick up a copy if you want to walk away from a job you dislike with money in your pocket. I did in 2012 and have been free since.

Claudine Gay Plagiarism Examples

Claudine Gay is accused of not using proper quotation marks when sourcing other people's work. I've looked at some of the examples, and most seem like minor infractions given Dr. Gay does site her sources at the end. However, by asking to correct multiple papers, Dr. Gay admits that her writing violated Harvard's anti-plagiarism rules.

Below is one example of Claudine Gay's plagiarism from the NY Post.

Claudine Gay plagiarism example

In addition, Claudine Gay even plagiarized some of her acknowledgements section in her Ph.D dissertation. See the example below where she copies two passages from Jennifer Hochschild.

Claudine Gay plagiarism of acknowledgements - should she get a severance package?

I'm not sure what motivates people to plagiarize the acknowledgements section, which is meant to express gratitude to those who provided help. However, if Dr. Gay has copied other people's acknowledgements, that could demonstrate a propensity to view plagiarism as acceptable in academic work more broadly.

Will Claudine Gay Get A Severance Package If Dismissed?

If an employee is terminated for cause, it essentially means they have been fired due to misconduct or poor performance. In most cases, fired employees are not provided severance packages, since severance is a voluntary financial payment typically reserved for employees laid off in good standing.

To clarify, being laid off refers to position elimination for business reasons, through no fault of the employee. For example, a department restructuring resulting in workforce reduction. Employees laid off for non-disciplinary reasons may qualify for severance.

On the other hand, being fired relates to performance deficiencies or policy violations. Common causes for termination with cause can include harassment, data theft, violence, bullying, gross negligence or persistent poor achievement. Employees terminated for cause generally do not receive severance.

In summary, severance eligibility often depends on whether the separation is a layoff or a firing.

Hence, if Claudine Gay is found guilty of plagiarism, as an academic and president of Harvard who is supposed to uphold the highest standard, she will be fired and should not receive a severance package.

But Claudine Gay Is A Protected Class And Will Probably Receive A Severance Package

However, given Claudine Gay is a Black woman from a wealthy Haitian family, she will likely get a severance package if she is dismissed by the Harvard Corporation. For example, Dr. Gay went to Philips Exeter Academy, an elite private boarding school in Exeter, New Hampshire. Her family also controls the cement industry in Haiti.

The ideology of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strongly supports Blacks over other races to make up for past wrongs by Whites. We've seen this in Harvard's use of affirmative action in college admissions. Notice how the large acceptance rate differential by race across academic deciles.

Unfortunately, Asian-Americans suffer from DEI initiatives given they are not considered a minority, despite only making up 7% of the population. As a result, Asian-Americans have a higher academic standard to meet to have the same chances of getting into Harvard compared to all other races. Some argue that solving discrimination by discriminating against others is not that way.

Harvard admissions by race and sex
Harvard admissions rate by percentage decile by race

Even though Claudine Gay is not a poor Black person from America, which is what affirmative action and diversity initiatives are supposed to support, she is likely immune to punishment if found at fault for plagiarism. As a Black woman, she is one of the most protected classes under the DEI system.

This is the double standard many people are displeased with. Harvard students have been expelled or at least suspended when conducting the same acts as Claudine Gay. Yet Dr. Gay gets elevated to the highest academic position despite the same violations.

As a result, if Claudine Gay is dismissed, she will most certainly get a severance package. The question is whether Dr. Gay will accept the severance package and quietly go on her way or reject the severance package and fight for her position.

Dr. Gay could also reject the severance package and sue Harvard for millions, which it has. And she could write a tell-all book with a multi-million dollar book advance. As a WSJ bestselling author with Portfolio Penguin, I'm certain Dr. Gay will have a seven-figure book advance if she wants to go this route.

Offering A Severance Package Protects Harvard Corporation's Reputation

Severance agreements often contain non-disparagement and confidentiality clauses. Laid off employees who sign a severance agreement typically must agree not to criticize their past employer or share proprietary information publicly, or risk losing their severance pay.

In sensitive situations involving leadership dismissals, companies may opt to offer separation packages to help avoid potential lawsuits or public relations issues down the road.

As a result, it is in Harvard's best interest to offer Claudine Gay a severance package, even if she is found guilty of multiple acts of plagiarism in her career. If Dr. Gay is fired without a severance package, then Dr. Gay will either sue the university or air out all of Harvard's secrets.

Harvard has over a $50 billion endowment. The reputational damage to Harvard would be far greater than the cost of giving out a severance. As a result, Dr. Gay will likely get a severance.

Claudine Gay Resigns As Harvard's President

After much deliberation and pressure, Claudine Gay announced her resignation as Harvard's president on January 2, 2024. Lucky for her, she’s moving back to her role as a political science professor with a $900,000 salary and multiple opportunities for additional income. In a way, allow Claudine Gay to revert to being a professor with a $900,000 salary is her severance package.

Her tenure was the shortest tenure in the history of Harvard presidents. Here is Claudine Gay's resignation letter, issued on January 2, 2024:

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

It is with a heavy heart but a deep love for Harvard that I write to share that I will be stepping down as president. This is not a decision I came to easily. Indeed, it has been difficult beyond words because I have looked forward to working with so many of you to advance the commitment to academic excellence that has propelled this great university across centuries. But, after consultation with members of the Corporation, it has become clear that it is in the best interests of Harvard for me to resign so that our community can navigate this moment of extraordinary challenge with a focus on the institution rather than any individual.

It is a singular honor to be a member of this university, which has been my home and my inspiration for most of my professional career. My deep sense of connection to Harvard and its people has made it all the more painful to witness the tensions and divisions that have riven our community in recent months, weakening the bonds of trust and reciprocity that should be our sources of strength and support in times of crisis. Amidst all of this, it has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am—and frightening to be subjected to personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.

I believe in the people of Harvard because I see in you the possibility and the promise of a better future. These last weeks have helped make clear the work we need to do to build that future—to combat bias and hate in all its forms, to create a learning environment in which we respect each other’s dignity and treat one another with compassion, and to affirm our enduring commitment to open inquiry and free expression in the pursuit of truth. I believe we have within us all that we need to heal from this period of tension and division and to emerge stronger.

I had hoped with all my heart to lead us on that journey, in partnership with all of you. As I now return to the faculty, and to the scholarship and teaching that are the lifeblood of what we do, I pledge to continue working alongside you to build the community we all deserve.

When I became president, I considered myself particularly blessed by the opportunity to serve people from around the world who saw in my presidency a vision of Harvard that affirmed their sense of belonging—their sense that Harvard welcomes people of talent and promise, from every background imaginable, to learn from and grow with one another. To all of you, please know that those doors remain open, and Harvard will be stronger and better because they do.

As we welcome a new year and a new semester, I hope we can all look forward to brighter days. Sad as I am to be sending this message, my hopes for Harvard remain undimmed. When my brief presidency is remembered, I hope it will be seen as a moment of reawakening to the importance of striving to find our common humanity—and of not allowing rancor and vituperation to undermine the vital process of education. I trust we will all find ways, in this time of intense challenge and controversy, to recommit ourselves to the excellence, the openness, and the independence that are crucial to what our university stands for—and to our capacity to serve the world.


Claudine Gay

Hold Yourself To A High Moral Standard

When recently asked whether calling for the genocide of Jews is wrong, the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and UPenn responded using equivocal language about contextual factors. In contrast, most young children intuitively understand such a call is morally wrong, regardless of context or target group.

Dr. Gay's refusal to unequivocally state that advocating for genocide would breach the school’s code of conduct is shocking. When in doubt, follow your moral compass. With Dr. Gay now resigning and returning as a professor, she will not receive a severance package because she will still be employed by Harvard University.

Negotiate A Severance Package Instead Of Quitting

If you are a disengaged employee considering leaving your job, try negotiating a severance package first. You have nothing to lose if you already plan to quit.

I negotiated a severance in 2012 at age 34 that provided six years of living expenses. This allowed me to transition out of a 13-year investment banking career that no longer fulfilled me. Three years later, I assisted my wife in negotiating a $100,000+ severance package at age 35 as well. We’ve both been free since.

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How to engineer your layoff - learn how to negotiate a severance package and be free

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Should Claudine Gay Receive A Severance is a Financial Samurai original post. Please don’t plagiarism it without my permission. If you do, at least use quotes and link back to this article.