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Harvard President Claudine Gay Plagued by Plagiarism Allegations in the Tumultuous Final Weeks of Tenure

Growing plagiarism allegations plagued the final weeks of former Harvard President Claudine Gay's tenure.
Growing plagiarism allegations plagued the final weeks of former Harvard President Claudine Gay's tenure. By Julian J. Giordano
By Sally E. Edwards and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

Growing plagiarism allegations plagued the final weeks of former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s tenure, setting the stage for her resignation Tuesday afternoon.

The allegations — many of which are individually minor but span Gay’s entire academic career — cast scrutiny on her scholarship. Many within and without the University have argued that she ought to be held to the same standard as Harvard’s own students and faculty and called for her resignation.

Though Gay initially signaled that she would try to weather the charges of plagiarism, at first defending her scholarship and then making a series of corrections, the steady stream of new allegations — which continued to roll in during the final days of her presidency — only added to doubts about Gay’s fitness to effectively lead Harvard.

The Washington Free Beacon — a conservative-leaning outlet which has previously covered plagiarism accusations against Gay — reported Monday that an anonymous professor from outside Harvard filed an expanded complaint alleging six additional unreported instances where Gay allegedly lifted material from other scholars.

The professor had previously filed a complaint to Harvard’s Research Integrity Officer on Dec. 19 alleging more than 40 instances of plagiarism, many of which had already been reported by the Free Beacon, the New York Post, and conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo.

The new claims involve Gay’s 1997 Harvard dissertation and one previously unaddressed academic article — “The Effect of Minority Districts and Minority Representation on Political Participation in California,” published in 2001 by the Public Policy Institute of California — in which Gay used a description of the Voting Rights Act which closely mirrored a description in a 1999 book by David T. Canon.

But Canon, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told the Free Beacon that he is “not at all concerned about the passages.”

“This isn’t even close to an example of academic plagiarism,” he said.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain declined to comment on the latest allegations.

Gay first faced allegations of plagiarism in mid-December after reports in the Free Beacon and Substack claimed she plagiarized portions of her 1997 Ph.D. dissertation and three other academic works.

The allegations came shortly after Gay’s controversial testimony during a congressional hearing on antisemitism on college campuses, which sparked calls for her resignation from members of Congress, alumni, and donors.

Gay’s presidency survived the immediate aftermath of the disastrous testimony with the unanimous backing of the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — but the plagiarism allegations persisted.

Following an independent review, the Corporation announced that though instances of improper citations had been identified in Gay’s scholarship, they did not violate Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.

After the initial allegations, Gay requested four corrections in two articles. On Dec. 20, as plagiarism allegations continued to build up, the University announced Gay would make three additional corrections to her 1997 doctoral dissertation.

Two scholars from whom Gay was accused of lifting additional material on Monday, Franklin D. Gilliam Jr. and Gary King, both told The Crimson in December that they did not consider Gay’s use of their work plagiarism.

In a Tuesday email to The Crimson, Gilliam — the chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro — wrote that he is “saddened” by Gay’s departure.

“I have known Dr. Claudine Gay to be an active and contributory scholar for many years,” he wrote.

King — a Harvard professor who served as Gay’s dissertation adviser – previously defended the integrity of Gay’s work, saying that her dissertation “met the highest levels of academic integrity,” in a Dec. 11 statement to the Crimson.

“If you were going to commit plagiarism, would you plagiarize your professor’s work and expect to get away with it?” he wrote. King did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest allegations.

In a letter to Harvard affiliates Tuesday, the Harvard Corporation briefly acknowledged accusations against Gay, highlighting the “extraordinary contributions” she has made as a scholar.

In her own letter announcing her resignation Tuesday, Gay acknowledged the swirling questions about her academic work.

“It has been distressing to have doubt cast on my commitments to confronting hate and to upholding scholarly rigor—two bedrock values that are fundamental to who I am,” Gay wrote.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at Follow her on X @sallyedwards04 or on Threads @sally_edwards06.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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Central AdministrationHarvard CorporationAcademic IntegrityClaudine Gay