Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Harvard President’s Corrections Do Not Address Her Clearest Instances of Plagiarism, Including As A Student in the 1990s

Harvard's Claudine Gay (Michael Brochstein-Sipa)
Claudine Gay (Michael Brochstein-Sipa)

*(CNN) — Harvard President Claudine Gay recently requested corrections for two of her academic papers, but she did not address even clearer examples of plagiarism from earlier in her academic history at the school, according to a CNN analysis of her writings.

In response to accusations of plagiarism, the embattled Harvard president recently submitted corrections to two papers she wrote as a professional academic in 2001 and 2017. But a CNN examination of Gay’s published works documented that Gay committed other, clearer examples of plagiarism while she was studying for her PhD at Harvard in the 1990s.

Those include an instance in her dissertation where she copied lines verbatim from another source without citation.

In addressing the allegations of plagiarism, neither Harvard nor Gay has corrected or acknowledged these earlier instances from when she was a student. The instances were first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

The Harvard Corporation, the university’s top governing body, said in a statement last week it became aware of plagiarism allegations against Gay in late October. At Gay’s request, it then conducted an “independent review” of Gay’s published works and found a few instances of missing citations but “no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.”

However, it is unclear whether that review included Gay’s 1997 dissertation, in which she lifted one paragraph almost verbatim from a paper published in 1996 by scholars without citation and, in another instance, copied specific language without attribution.

Both offenses appear to go against Harvard’s guide on plagiarism, which clearly states, “it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper.” Students who submit work without clear attribution to sources will be “subject to disciplinary action, up to and including the requirement to withdraw from the College,” Harvard’s plagiarism policy states.

Under a microscope

Gay has faced widespread backlash following her congressional testimony about antisemitism on Harvard’s campus when she and other university presidents failed to explicitly say calls for genocide of Jewish people constituted bullying and harassment on campus. She later apologized for her comments.

The board said it stood unanimously in support of Gay.

Harvard's Claudine Gay (Brian Snyder-Reuters)
Harvard’s Claudine Gay (Brian Snyder-Reuters)

Now her academic and professional career are under a microscope. Plagiarism charges against Gay were first circulated by conservative activists and later reported by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication. One of the activists, Christopher Rufo, has also criticized Gay on several other issues, including Harvard’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies, and acknowledged having launched a media campaign against Gay.

Financier Bill Ackman, a Harvard alum, who has also been an outspoken critic of Gay, saying (without evidence) that Harvard hired her only to fulfill diversity requirements, is now also accusing Gay of plagiarism.

CNN was able to verify some of the main allegations of the Free Beacon’s reporting and spoke with plagiarism experts who confirmed that Gay committed plagiarism in these instances. However, the experts were divided on the seriousness of Gay’s offenses and raised questions regarding Harvard’s review of Gay’s work, including whether enough time was spent to review Gay’s body of work.

The experts also cautioned that plagiarism and its attendant scandals can be complex.

Jonathan Bailey, a plagiarism expert who runs the site Plagiarism Today, told CNN that instances of plagiarism are often followed by calls for a harsh rebuke.

“People tend to want to paint plagiarism with a broad brush as something that should be immediately cause for termination or immediately cause for the strongest action,” Bailey said. “But that’s just not how it works in the real world. A lot of factors are looked at and considered when deciding how to respond to it.”

“This is a nuanced case, and that nuance is kind of impossible because of how politically charged it is right now,” said Bailey.

Harvard declined CNN’s requests for comment to both Gay and the university.

In a previous statement, Gay said, “I stand by the integrity of my scholarship. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards.”

Plagiarism by Gay while a student at Harvard

The first publicly identified instance of plagiarism by Gay comes from her failure to properly cite sources in her 1993 essay, “Between Black and White: The Complexity of Brazilian Race Relations,” published by Origins magazine, then a Canadian print publication.

At the time it was published, Gay was a graduate student at Harvard.

In that essay, Gay’s article included few citations of her sources but contained a “Suggestions for Further Reading” list that includes the work of George Reid Andrews, from whom she lifted one sentence almost verbatim and borrowed other key languages. Nowhere did Gay’s essay cite the work of David Covin, whose work and language she also used and failed to credit.

In her 1997 dissertation entitled, “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics,” Gay lifted one paragraph almost verbatim from a paper published in 1996 by scholars Bradley Palmquist and Stephen Voss without citing their work. In another instance, Gay copied specific language from the duo without attribution in either quotations or citations.

CNN spoke to Voss, who was Gay’s teaching fellow in her quantitative analysis class and is now an associate professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

Voss told CNN that Gay technically plagiarized him in two instances, but said he felt it was “inconsequential in a scholarly sense.”

“It’s not at all the reason why her dissertation was, you know, valued by anybody,” Voss said, referring to Gay winning the Toppan Prize for best dissertation in political science while at Harvard.

Voss said he does not want to see Gay punished for her actions and said that a far more significant offense would be to steal an idea or insight from him.

“If Claudine had, you know, rushed into print or even to a conference, a paper that took an idea from me, then I might not have been able to get my work published ‘cause she scooped me,” he said. “That would be quite serious, even though she might not have used a single word the same. Whereas this—where the wording is the same—it’s stuff that I was not relying on in any way.”

Other academics disagreed.

“I think the feelings of the true authors are largely irrelevant,” said Michael Dougherty, a professor of philosophy at Ohio Dominican University who has written two books on plagiarism. “The way I approach it is [to] focus on the text, not on the feelings of those whose work was stolen.”

“Conversations on plagiarism become very, very complex, and it just comes down to: is the work reliable? Are those who authored the words credited? And could a person tell that by reading?” he said.

If it is unclear, Dougherty said, then the work should be retracted.

Neither Harvard nor Gay has commented on the allegations of plagiarism in her 1997 dissertation or 1993 essay.

Plagiarism by Harvard’s Claudine Gay in Peer-reviewed Works

In addition to the “verbatim plagiarism” Gay committed as a student, there are other less serious offenses of plagiarism that appear in her work published in peer-reviewed journals.

In her 2012 article entitled, “Moving To Opportunity: the Political Effects of a Housing Mobility Experiment,” published in the journal Urban Affairs Review Gay repeatedly cited a 2003 paper from eight economists but failed to attribute them in at least two specific places where she used similar language as her source.

Plagiarism experts told CNN this is a type of plagiarism.

“We call this kind of plagiarism a ‘pawn sacrifice,’” said German academic Deborah Weber-Wulff, a recently retired professor in computer science and expert on plagiarism and its software. “If you put the citation somewhere else, or you put the citation in and have the exact words, but you forget the quotation marks… in a way you’re telling people, I used this thesis, but I forgot the quotation marks. That’s usually also a sign that you need to look for more [examples of plagiarism].”

“It’s really amazing how many people actually give you clues to where they stole the text,” she added.

Gay similarly failed to correctly attribute sources in her 2017 article, “A Room for One’s Own? The Partisan Allocation of Affordable Housing,” published in the journal Urban Affairs Review.

Gay borrowed language from Alex F. Schwartz’s 2010 book, “Housing Policy in the United States,” but attributed his work at the end of the paragraph, not sentence and did not use quotation marks.

This, too, is “a species of plagiarism,” said Dougherty, the philosophy professor who has written two books on plagiarism. “And that’s where some credit is given to the source, but it’s not in a way that a reader can tell what part belongs to that source.”

The 2017 article was one of two works Gay submitted for corrections to address, according to Harvard Crimson, but she did not submit a correction for this example. Instead, the student newspaper said, she submitted updates that added references to two more works she did not credit.

Gay submitted a correction for work in her 2001 article “The Effect of Black Congressional Representation on Political Participation,” published in the journal American Political Science Review. In it, she failed to properly attribute and quote her source, a 1990 paper from Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam.

Plagiarism experts split on punishment

While Gay currently has the support of the Harvard board, critics continue to call for her ouster, citing a “double standard” in allowing her to remain the head of a top university when she has committed plagiarism.

The university’s review into Gay’s conduct was very fast, experts told CNN. Independent reviews into plagiarism typically last much longer—anywhere from six months to several years —and noted that it is very rare for academics, or even students, to be fired or expelled for plagiarism.

“I compare this to a case: when does a man have a bald head? It’s very clear when he is bald, and it’s very clear when he is not,” said Weber-Wulff. “It’s always a gradual situation, and we can never really say, here’s the border. So that’s why there needs to be a committee that looks at it and decides, ‘Hmm, is this serious or not?’

“Now they, if they were only looking at the four articles that she published [with allegations of plagiarism], they may have decided that’s not serious. It would be the question whether they actually looked at the dissertation or not,” she said.

It’s unclear whether the independent review did.

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