Harvard under growing pressure over plagiarism allegations

Harvard under growing pressure over plagiarism allegations

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Pressure is growing on Harvard University amid calls for President Claudine Gay to resign after allegations of plagiarism, the latest controversy to engulf the prestigious institution in recent months.  

Gay has had to issue numerous corrections to previous papers in the past few weeks after plagiarism allegations were raised for work by her that spanned decades.  

The controversy is drawing fresh scrutiny on Gay and putting even more pressure on Harvard, which has been under a tense spotlight since October.  

In an op-ed published by The Washington Post over the weekend, deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus called on the university president to step down.

“She plagiarized her acknowledgments. I take no joy in saying this, but Harvard President Claudine Gay ought to resign. Her track record is unbefitting the president of the country’s premier university,” Marcus wrote. “Remaining on the job would send a bad signal to students about the gravity of her conduct.” 

Related coverage from The Hill

The turmoil has also reportedly stirred frustration with members of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s board. 

The New York Times reported Sunday that a meeting occurred last week in which several academics told the board they had to fix the situation they helped create.  

The board has consistently stayed on Gay’s side in public, releasing statements defending her from a recent antisemitism controversy and plagiarism concerns. 

“You need to be more out front of this,” Jeffrey Flier, the former dean of Harvard Medical School, told the board members, according to the Times. “If people are saying the university is making mistakes — they are talking about you!” 

Dr. Claudine Gay, President of Harvard University, testifies before the House Education and Workforce Committee at the Rayburn House Office Building on December 5, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

The Times reported that another individual, nonprofit founder Tracy Palandjian, told the board they needed “generational change” and that firing Gay was not enough.  

The Harvard Corporation announced earlier in December it had reviewed the plagiarism claims, and they did not warrant firing Gay. 

“While the analysis found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct, President Gay is proactively requesting four corrections in two articles to insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications,” Harvard Corporation said in a statement. 

Yet since that statement, Gay has had to issue more corrections in her works, including in her 1997 dissertation.  

In another sign that the controversy is rippling across campus, The Harvard Crimson, the school’s student newspaper, published a story Monday outlining the corrections Gay has made so far and the criticism the university has faced.

“This is politically motivated in its origin, but I think that they owe it to everybody in the university community and outside to show that they’ve really undertaken this review with the same diligence that they would do for any other member of faculty,” said Nicholas Dirks, a professor at Columbia University and former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley.

Congress is getting involved as well and will be investigating how the school has handled the plagiarism claims to ensure it matches how the allegations would be handled for any student or faculty member.  

“The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has begun a review of Harvard University’s handling of credible allegations of plagiarism by President Claudine Gay over a period of 24 years,” said Education Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.). “An allegation of plagiarism by a top school official at any university would be reason for concern, but Harvard is not just any university. It styles itself as one of the top educational institutions in the country.”

“Our concern is that standards are not being applied consistently, resulting in different rules for different members of the academic community. If a university is willing to look the other way and not hold faculty accountable for engaging in academically dishonest behavior, it cheapens its mission and the value of its education. Students must be evaluated fairly, under known standards — and have a right to see that faculty are, too,” Foxx said. 

But experts are concerned with Congress getting involved and the implications it could have on higher education.  

“Congress doesn’t know how to do that and shouldn’t be judging faculty conduct. That’s not the prerogative of Congress,” said Dirks, author of “City of Intellect: The Uses and Abuses of the University.” “And so what worries me in all of this in the larger sense is that what happens at Harvard is not going to stay at Harvard and is going to affect the overall climate for faculty governance, for academic freedom and for fundamental issues that … are definitely under … threat right at the moment.”

This is the second investigation against Harvard that the committee has announced, with the first happening after Gay said calling for the genocide of Jewish people would or would not be harassment depending on the context.  

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