Claudine Gay plagiarism scandal: Questions mount for Harvard

The resignation of Harvard president Claudine Gay over allegations of plagiarism and her disastrous response to antisemitism turns the spotlight on the university’s governing body — the Harvard Corporation.

The 12-member board is led by the billionaire Hyatt hotel scion Penny Prtizker, a former Obama administration commerce secretary, who has vowed to stay on despite Gay quitting.

Harvard itself is facing investigation by the House of Representatives‘ committee on education and the workforce into the plagiarism scandal and how it handled it.

The university says it was first alerted to allegations that Gay took other academics’ words and used them as her own by The Post in late October when we approached its spokesman Jonathan Swain for comment during our reporting.

But what it did next, to threaten The Post in a 15-page bullying letter from bare-knuckled law firm Clare Locke and clear Gay before investigating her, leave a series of unanswered questions about the university’s most important governing figures.

Harvard Corporation leader Penny Pritzker was Commerce Secretary in the Obama administration. The former president initially supported Gay even after the backlash over her refusal to condemn antisemitism on campus during a congressional hearing last month. Getty Images
Following the resignation of Claudine Gay, Harvard’s governing body faces many questions about how it cleared the former president of violating Harvard’s own rules on academic attribution. Getty Images

Why did Harvard claim Gay was innocent without investigating her?

In Harvard’s lawyers’ letter to The Post on October 27 the university demanded that allegations Gay was a plagiarist “must not be published” and threatened legal action to find the anonymous whistleblower who approached The Post to raise their concerns.

And it also claimed that Gay’s work was “cited and properly credited,” and that allegations of copying were “demonstrably false” — all within 72 hours of The Post asking for comment.

Less than two weeks later, on November 7, the university’s lawyers said: “We have conclusively rebutted (with evidence) all the false allegations of plagiarism that have been presented to date.”

This was some of the language used in the 15-page letter from attorneys Clare Locke to The Post in an attempt to suppress the claims against Gay. The Post continued its investigation.

But the corporation has still not explained how it rushed to that conclusion, and who decided that Gay was innocent.

Why did Harvard launch a secret probe — and what did it really find?

On November 3 the Harvard Corporation did start some kind of investigation, but entirely in secret.

Four of the 12-member corporation formed a special committee to decide what to do about the allegations — but their identities have never been disclosed.

That committee appears to be who decided to ditch Harvard’s normal rules on dealing with plagiarism allegations against faculty members, which the corporation later said would have been a conflict of interest because the body which would carry it out reports to the president — at the time, Gay herself.

Claudine Gay blamed “racial animus” for the attacks against her in her resignation letter Tuesday. AP

The corporation then asked three outside “distinguished political scientists” who had “no affiliation” with Harvard. Their identities and the methods they used to investigate Gay have also never been disclosed.

But on December 12, the college issued a long statement defending Gay and once again cleared her of plagiarism — without saying what the three outside political scientists found.

Instead it said: “On December 9, the Fellows reviewed the results, which revealed a few instances of inadequate citation.”

And it said “the analysis found no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct,” but did not explain how that conclusion was reached.

Will Gay now be fully investigated under Harvard’s rules for faculty?

The Corporation said it had to go to a secret star chamber of outside political scientists and not use the usual method of investigating plagiarism claims because of “the potential for the appearance of a conflict of interest, because these offices ultimately report to the President.”

But that conflict no longer exists: Gay is once again an ordinary member of the faculty.

The Post presented this example of possible plagiarism, published in Urban Affairs Review in 2017, when Gay was dean of social science at Harvard. Harvard’s lawyers told us it was “properly cited,” but weeks later Harvard said she was asking to have it corrected to add quote marks and citation.

And under normal faculty rules, it should be up to the Research Integrity Officer in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to decide if there is enough doubt over Gay’s work for it to be fully investigated — and to do so within a week, if possible.

After that the faculty’s Standing Committee on Professional Conduct is required to start a full investigation, give Gay written notice of it, and find “individuals with the appropriate scientific expertise to evaluate the evidence and issues.”

Gay has already admitted she needed to make four corrections to academic papers and three to her dissertation.

Who hired and briefed the bullying lawyers?

Harvard’s lawyers, Clare Locke, said they represented both the university and Gay. But it is not clear who made the unusual decision to hire them, given that the $50 billion-endowment college has lawyers of its own, led by general counsel Diane Lopez, or who told them to claim that Gay had been cleared of plagiarism.

Clare Locke have previously represented the Sackler family, Matt Lauer, and Russian oligarchs after the invasion of Ukraine.

It also represented Dominion Voting Systems in its lawsuit against Fox News. The Post’s parent company NewsCorp shares the same ownership as Fox News’ parent company, Fox Corporation.

Harvard did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.


Written by SaleemBaloch

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