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‘Overblown’ or ‘Hypocritical’? Harvard Students Offer Mixed Takes on President Gay Plagiarism Allegations

College students had mixed views on the plagiarism allegations that have hit Harvard President Claudine Gay during her first semester in office.
College students had mixed views on the plagiarism allegations that have hit Harvard President Claudine Gay during her first semester in office. By Julian J. Giordano
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

Students offered mixed views on the plagiarism allegations that have plagued Harvard President Claudine Gay as she wrapped up her first semester in office laden in controversy.

While several students argued that Gay must be held to the same standards of academic integrity as students and faculty — some going as far as to support her resignation — others called into question the severity of the allegations leveled against Gay and took issue with the outsized national attention.

The plagiarism allegations dominated national headlines, but did not immediately become the talk of campus. The allegations first surfaced during Harvard College’s final examination period, and many undergraduate students were too engrossed in their own academic work to pay attention to Gay’s.

A Dec. 10 post on Substack by conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo and a Dec. 11 article by the Washington Free Beacon first alleged that four academic works by Gay — including her 1997 Harvard dissertation — contained plagiarized material.

On Dec. 12, the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — issued a statement publicly backing Gay. The Corporation said it “initiated an independent review” of Gay’s work upon her request and announced that Gay would correct “a few instances of inadequate citation” across two published articles.

Julia García Galindo ’25 said she first learned about the plagiarism allegations when the Corporation issued its initial statement but only began following them closely after her exams ended.

She said while the allegations initially seemed “very serious,” she became “more and more skeptical” of their credibility as she read further.

“While I think that properly citing your sources is important, I’m now at a point where I think it’s definitely been overblown and overstated,” García Galindo added, referencing the uproar over antisemitism on Harvard’s campus and Gay’s controversial congressional testimony.

Following further accusations of plagiarism, the University announced that Gay would make corrections to her dissertation but said the allegations did not rise to the level of research misconduct. Under the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ interim policy for research misconduct by faculty, misconduct must involve “intentional deception or recklessness.”

But other students said they were more concerned about the allegations, with some arguing that Gay was being held to a lower standard than Harvard’s own students.

Ian M. Moore ’26, a Crimson editorial editor, said that Gay should face the same academic integrity standards as students.

“It’s hypocritical for the university to apply one standard to students and another standard to faculty — and perhaps even a third standard to Claudine Gay,” Moore said.

Irati Egorho Diez ’25 said while she was initially “quite charitable” to Gay, her perspective “quickly shifted” once she learned of the “breadth and depth” of the plagiarism allegations.

“It really seemed to be something that permeated much of her academic work,” Egorho Diez said, adding that she now believes Gay should resign.

“I do think that the role of the president should be an embodiment of the values of Harvard College,” she added. “And this, to me, seems to be the opposite of that.”

Egorho Diez was not alone in her belief that Gay’s future at the helm of Harvard might become untenable.

Kendall E. Carll ’26 wrote in an email Sunday that while Gay’s “faulty academic record” alone should not cost her the presidency, focusing on the plagiarism allegations “misses the forest for the trees.”

“It is another false-step in a series of recent setbacks,” Carll wrote. “And while Gay’s impulse to brave the store is admirable, it’s hard to see how the administration can erase the stains on its record, reestablish its authority and legitimacy, and get back to focusing on the university. ”

“Doing so would be an impressive feat,” he added. "Stepping down would be a humble offering to the university’s future.”

Still, Gay maintained the quality of her academic work in a statement on Dec. 11.

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

Harvard spokesperson Jason A. Newton did not comment on student criticism of Gay or the University’s handling of the allegations.

Some students have also pointed to the abundance of voices that have publicly weighed in on the situation. In particular, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill A. Ackman ’88 has been a strong critic of Gay, repeatedly calling for her resignation on X.

Owen O. Ebose ’25 wrote in an email Monday that the allegations are an attempt to smear Gay.

“Very loud people in business, politics and the media want her gone, and they’re digging up minor mistakes from up to decades ago to build momentum for her ouster,” he wrote.

After Gay has submitted the necessary corrections, Ebose wrote, “we should move on.”

“This is a distraction from the important work ahead of our University,” he added.

García Galindo also pointed to the fact that Gay is the first person of color and only second woman to lead the University.

“She’s definitely been under a lot of scrutiny, not just because she’s the president of Harvard but because she’s a woman and she’s a black woman,” she said. “I think we just kind of have to keep this in mind.”

Some students have also noted the bright national spotlight that has been cast on the University and the various political interests that may be at play.

Josh G. Caven ’24 said he believed the plagiarism allegations had become engulfed in an “absolutely toxic” national political conversation “rife with various other agendas and allegations and political biases.”

Caven said he hopes that ultimately, any decisions about Claudine Gay’s resignation will result from “voices on campus” rather than national or political pressure.

“A lot of it feels very disconnected from Harvard life — the Harvard campus,” he added.

Correction: December 28, 2023

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Kendall Carll supported calls for Harvard President Claudine Gay to resign. In fact, Carll did not offer a definitive stance on calls for Gay’s resignation.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at michelle.amponsah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at joyce.kim@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

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