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Harvard President Claudine Gay Faces Additional Plagiarism Allegations

Harvard President Claudine Gay is facing new allegations of plagiarism following accusations earlier this week that she plagiarized portions of other academic works.
Harvard President Claudine Gay is facing new allegations of plagiarism following accusations earlier this week that she plagiarized portions of other academic works. By Julian J. Giordano
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated: December 14, 2023, at 1:12 p.m.

Harvard President Claudine Gay is facing new plagiarism allegations, following accusations earlier this week that she had plagiarized portions of her 1997 Ph.D. dissertation and three other published works.

A Tuesday New York Post report included two previously unreported instances where Gay’s words mirrored that of other scholars. Conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo wrote that economic historian Phillip W. Magness had discovered an additional instance of alleged plagiarism in a Wednesday post on X.

In one instance, Gay used similar phrasing to another scholar to describe the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit but did not cite their work, though both scholars cited the same source. In another, Gay’s description of her methods were similar to another paper which she did not cite in that context but cited elsewhere in her work.

In other flagged instances, Gay shared language with a paper that she cited, but did not quote directly.

These growing plagiarism allegations come during the most challenging week of Gay’s presidency so far. Following her controversial testimony in Congress, Gay has faced calls to resign from alumni, donors, and members of Congress.

The Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — announced Tuesday that it backed Gay while acknowledging that it “became aware in late October of allegations regarding three articles.” Per their statement, the Corporation members “initiated an independent review” of Gay’s “published work” at her request.

The review, the Corporation wrote, “revealed a few instances of inadequate citation.”

“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,” the Corporation statement added.

The Post reported that they reached out to Harvard on Oct. 24 “asking for comment on more than two dozen instances in which Gay’s words appeared to closely parallel words, phrases or sentences in published works by other academics.”

In its report, it only explicitly details four such instances, some of which were previously reported by the Washington Free Beacon in a Monday article.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain did not offer comment on the allegations made by the Post or Magness, or whether the Post was the first to make Harvard aware of plagiarism allegations against Gay.

Gay backed her work in a Monday statement after the initial allegations emerged regarding Gay’s dissertation, first made by Rufo in a Substack post on Sunday.

“I stand by the integrity of my scholarship,” she wrote. “Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards.”

The Post article contained two comparisons of passages from Gay’s 2017 paper “A Room for One’s Own? The Partisan Allocation of Affordable Housing,” in the Urban Affairs Review, with excerpts of other academic work.

One sentence describing the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit contained similar wording to a 2011 paper by Miami University professor Anne R. Williamson.

Gay’s paper did not cite Williamson’s. Gay and Williamson cited the same 2010 book on American housing policy by The New School professor Alex F. Schwartz, whom the Free Beacon also accused Gay of plagiarizing.

Schwartz previously told The Crimson he did not consider Gay’s use of his work plagiarism.

Though the Post reported that Williamson said she was “angry” after seeing the two passages side-by-side, Williamson disputed that representation.

“I'm not angry,” she said, adding that though she felt she had been technically plagiarized, she did “not want to see this get blown out of proportion.”

“This is not a major issue,” Williamson added. “This is some phraseology about the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program.”

Williamson wrote in a follow-up statement that Gay’s plan to request corrections was the proper resolution and that she was “completely satisfied.”

The Post did not respond to a request for comment on their representation of Williamson’s words.

The Post also compared a section of the same paper with a 2006 paper by Stephen D. Ansolabehere and James M. Snyder, Jr., titled “Party Control of State Government and the Distribution of Public Expenditures,” published in the Scandinavian Journal of Economics.

Gay used similar language to Ansolabehere and Snyder’s to describe a statistical test. Though Gay twice cited Ansolabehere and Snyder elsewhere in her study, she did not in the passage highlighted by the Post.

Ansolabehere wrote in a statement that he felt Gay had not plagiarized his work.

“I read Claudine Gay’s papers before they were published as they are on questions that interest me,” Ansolabehere wrote in a statement. “At the time nothing struck me as unusual. Reading these passages again, I do not see anything alarming, and I see no evidence of plagiarism.”

He added that “some of the language” that was contested were “generic expressions and wordings frequently used in social science writing.”

When reached for a request for comment, Snyder referred The Crimson to Ansolabehere. Editors of the Urban Affairs Review declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting on articles that predate their editorship.

In his X post, Rufo alleged that in Gay’s 2001 paper “The Effect of Black Congressional Representation on Political Participation” — published in the American Political Science Review — she “lifted verbatim language from scholars Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam, without using direct quotation marks.”

Rufo and journalist Christopher Brunet had previously accused Gay of using “an entire paragraph nearly verbatim” from the same work by Bobo and Gilliam in her dissertation.

In both allegations, Gay describes a concept from Bobo and Gilliam’s 1990 paper titled “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment” using nearly identical wording without quotation marks, though the two authors are clearly cited.

There were similar commonalities between Gay’s dissertation and the paper by Bobo and Gilliam.

In his post, Rufo did not mention that Gay cited Bobo and Gilliam’s 1990 work — the one that he accused her of plagiarizing from — earlier in the paragraph.

Harvard’s current guidelines against plagiarism says that verbatim text must be clearly cited and either placed in quotation marks or paraphrased, adding that “it’s not enough to change a few words here and there and leave the rest; instead, you must completely restate the ideas in the passage in your own words.”

But Bobo — Harvard’s dean of Social Science — said he did not feel like Gay plagiarized the two scholars’ work.

“The work mentioned included appropriate references,” Bobo wrote in a statement. He previously said he was “unconcerned” about Rufo’s initial claims.

Though Gilliam, the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, did not respond to a request for comment for this article, he previously told The Crimson he did not think Gay’s use of his work was plagiarism.

Editors of the American Political Science Review wrote in a statement Thursday afternoon that they “are aware of allegations” involving Gay’s 2001 paper.

“We are looking into this matter according to the journal’s editorial policies,” they wrote.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @neilhshah15 or on Threads @kne.els.

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