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Top Harvard Diversity Officer Sherri Charleston Faces Plagiarism Allegations

Harvard's Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston faced 40 allegations of plagiarism.
Harvard's Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston faced 40 allegations of plagiarism. By Courtesy of Sam Crowfoot, Crowfoot Photography

Harvard’s Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri A. Charleston faced 40 allegations of plagiarism in an anonymous complaint filed with the University on Monday.

The complaint, first reported by the Washington Free Beacon on Tuesday, alleged 28 instances of plagiarism in Charleston’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan and 12 allegations against a 2014 article in the Journal of Negro Education, co-authored with her husband LaVar J. Charleston and Michigan State University College of Education Dean Jerlando F.L. Jackson.

Complaints were also filed to the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Charleston co-wrote the 2014 paper, according to the Free Beacon.

The complaint alleged that the “results” described in the 2014 article were “practically identical” to the “major findings” of a 2012 article paper by LaVar Charleston — the UW-Madison deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion — in the Journal of Diversity of Higher Education.

The two articles contain nearly identical descriptions of interviewee demographics. While the 2014 article repeatedly cites LaVar Charleston’s 2012 article, it does not attribute the interviews to the 2012 article or cite it in the passages in question.

The 2014 article also includes an interview which appears nearly identically in the 2012 article, with no indication that the interviews are shared.

The complaint also accused the 2014 article of lifting other phrases from the 2012 article “without proper attribution.”

The complaint follows plagiarism allegations against former Harvard President Claudine Gay — also publicized by the Free Beacon — that factored into her resignation earlier this month. Unlike Gay, Charleston does not hold a faculty appointment at Harvard.

The allegations suggest a now-familiar tactic in the debates over higher education — unearthing misconduct or improprieties in the scholarly records of academics and administrators — is being deployed in a campaign to discredit diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

“Havard’s president was a plagiarist. Harvard’s chief diversity officer is a plagiarist,” conservative activist and prominent Harvard critic Christopher F. Rufo wrote in a post on X on Tuesday. “We will keep exposing them, one by one, until the university restores truth, rather than racialist ideology, as its mission.”

University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote in an emailed statement that while Harvard has processes for handling research misconduct allegations, they “do not comment on individual cases or on the existence of investigations related to research misconduct allegations.”

In his statement, Newton praised Charleston as furthering the University’s “belief that everyone who comes to Harvard belongs at Harvard and, whether a student, faculty, staff member, or researcher, should have the opportunity to succeed.”

Sherri Charleston and LaVar Charleston did not respond to requests for comment for this article. Jackson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UW-Madison spokesperson Kelly Tyrrell wrote in an emailed statement that the school “takes all allegations of research misconduct seriously” and that their Office of Research Integrity “has initiated an assessment in response to the allegations.”

The Journal of Negro Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The complaint also alleged that extensive passages in Sherri Charleston’s 2009 Ph.D. dissertation lifted language from a 2005 book written by Rebecca J. Scott, a professor of history and law at the University of Michigan. Scott co-chaired Charleston’s doctoral committee and advised Charleston on her dissertation.

Many passages describe or analyze historical events using phrases — and sometimes whole sentences — identical to those in Scott’s book. In each case, Charleston cites Scott but does not quote the shared language.

The complaint also alleges that Charleston plagiarized from University of North Carolina history professor Louis A. Pérez Jr.’s 1983 book, “Cuba Between Empires, 1878-1902.” Charleston cites Pérez in all but one instance but does not quote his book, even when borrowing distinctive details and phrases from Pérez’s historical account.

The complaint also alleged that there were passages in Charleston’s dissertation which were plagiarized without containing any citation, including a section that appeared to borrow language from Pérez’s book and another that reflected ideas from a 2005 article by Michele Mitchell, a history professor at New York University who was the other co-chair on Charleston’s doctoral committee.

University of Michigan spokesperson Colleen Mastony declined to comment on the allegations of plagiarism involving Charleston’s dissertation, citing school policy “to neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation into misconduct” and added that “the university is committed to fostering and upholding the highest ethical standards in research and scholarship.”

Scott, Pérez, and Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at Follow her on X @TillyRobin.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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