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Harvard’s Claudine Gay Survives Ousting Efforts

But her troubles may just be starting.

After a damning performance before the House in early December, the fate of Harvard’s contentious President Claudine Gay has apparently been settled. Calls for Gay to be fired sprung up following her testimony on campus antisemitism amid the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East. According to The Crimson newspaper, the Harvard Corporation made the decision not to ask for her resignation or let her go at the conclusion of yesterday’s (Dec. 11) emergency meeting. “Gay will remain in office with the support of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body,” The Crimson reported early this morning.

Gay served a mere six months as Harvard’s president before she testified in front of the House Education Committee last week along with MIT’s President Sally Kornbluth and University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Magill, who has since resigned – though she will remain a tenured faculty member. When pressed about their response to recent pro-Palestinian protests on campus, all three women appeared to wither under the questioning of Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY).

A Harvard graduate, Stefanik repeatedly asked Gay if calling for Jewish genocide violated the university’s code of conduct. What should have been a straightforward answer turned into a hesitant, vacillating retort that was harshly criticized. Following her fumble at the House hearing, Gay endeavored to walk back her comments with a mea culpa in the college newspaper. “I’m sorry,“ she told The Crimson, then doubled down with, “When words amplify distress and pain, I don’t know how you could feel anything but regret.” She also acknowledged that the apology probably wasn’t enough.

GettyImages-1245637528 Claudine Gay

Claudine Gay (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

As the firestorm continued, people began to take sides, but the Harvard faithful appeared to line up behind their beleaguered president. On Sunday, Dec. 10, an estimated 650 faculty members signed a petition asking the Harvard governing board to “resist political pressures that are at odds with Harvard’s commitment to academic freedom,” according to The New York Times. The next day, The Crimson ran an article saying, “The Harvard Alumni Association Executive Committee expressed its unanimous support for Harvard President Claudine Gay and asked the University’s governing boards to publicly back Gay in a letter sent Monday.”

More Questions on Claudine Gay

Just as it seemed the sky was about to clear for Gay, a report by Christopher F. Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Christopher Brunet of The American Conservative published an article questioning her academic credentials. Their claim – which included examples – is that the Harvard president committed the cardinal sin of authors and plagiarized parts of her Ph.D. dissertation. The article said they “obtained exclusive documentation” of plagiarism and carried the following two citations. First is the source material from a paper by Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam:

“Using 1987 national sample survey data … the results show that blacks in high-black-empowerment areas — as indicated by control of the mayor’s office — are more active than either blacks living in low-empowerment areas or their white counterparts of comparable socioeconomic status. Furthermore, the results show that empowerment influences black participation by contributing to a more trusting and efficacious orientation to politics and by greatly increasing black attentiveness to political affairs.”

From Gay’s dissertation:

“Using 1987 survey data, Bobo and Gilliam found that African-Americans in ‘high black-empowerment’ areas — as indicated by control of the mayor’s office — are more active than either African-Americans in low empowerment areas or their white counterparts of comparable socioeconomic status. Empowerment, they conclude, influences black participation by contributing to a more trusting and efficacious orientation towards politics and by greatly increasing black attentiveness to political affairs.”

As the reader can see, Gay changed a few words, but Harvard has a strict policy regarding such things. A section of its rubric on the theft of another’s writing is called mosaic plagiarism: “If you copy bits and pieces from a source (or several sources), changing a few words here and there without either adequately paraphrasing or quoting directly, the result is mosaic plagiarism.” If looked at through this lens, it does appear that Gay has violated the policy, taking another’s work for her own.

Rufo and Brunet outlined another example, this one from author Carol Swain, and it appeared particularly compromising:

Swain: Since the 1950s the reelection rate for House members has rarely dipped below 90 percent …

Gay: Since the 1950s, the reelection rate for incumbent House members has rarely dipped below 90% … (Note: there are no quotation marks in Gay’s writing.)

For an academic or any author really, this is a serious issue that cannot simply be swept under the rug. Still, the accusations were met with swift denials by Gay’s academic adviser, who told The Daily Beast the idea that the Harvard president plagiarized was “absurd.” In an interview with The Beast on Dec. 11, Prof. Gary King said, “There’s not a conceivable case that this is plagiarism.” For its part, The Beast labeled Rufo a “conservative activist who almost single-handedly turned critical race theory into a national flashpoint.” However, the article made no attempt to clear up the questions raised by Rufo and Brunet. Distraction and personal attacks are two of the left’s most common weapons to wield when there is a disagreement; however, they are unlikely to be very effective, considering the evidence and reasonable questions Gay’s critics raise.

With Pennsylvania’s Magill busted back to the ranks, Gay hanging on by a thread, and MIT’s Sally Kornbluth’s fate still in the wind, one wonders just how much more care and attention the nation’s educational institutions will offer in protecting their student bodies from calls for genocide. For President Gay, though, as allegations of plagiarism only just begin to heat up, it may not be long before she is once again forced to defend herself.

Read More From Leesa K. Donner

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