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Harvard Extension School Administrator Accused of Plagiarism in Anonymous Complaint

The complaint marks the third set of anonymous plagiarism allegations against Black women who hold or held leadership positions at Harvard.

Harvard Extension School administrator Shirley R. Greene was accused of 42 instances of plagiarism.
Harvard Extension School administrator Shirley R. Greene was accused of 42 instances of plagiarism. By Charles K. Michael
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Extension School administrator Shirley R. Greene was accused of 42 instances of plagiarism in her 2008 University of Michigan dissertation in a complaint sent to the University Friday — the latest in a string of anonymous plagiarism complaints against Black Harvard officials.

All three anonymous complaints — against former University President Claudine Gay, Harvard Chief Diversity Officer Sherri A. Charleston, and now Greene, who handles Title IX complaints at the Extension School — were leveled at Black women who hold or held leadership positions at the University.

Unlike Gay, Charleston and Greene are administrators and do not hold academic appointments at Harvard.

The complaint was submitted anonymously to the chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ professional conduct committee Friday afternoon and obtained by The Crimson.

The allegations ranged from “plain silly” to “especially worrisome,” according to plagiarism expert Jonathan Bailey, who runs the blog Plagiarism Today and independently reviewed the complaint at The Crimson’s request.

Bailey wrote in an email that the contents of the complaint were “definitely enough” to “warrant a thorough review of this dissertation,” though he added that many of the allegations “either don’t prove plagiarism or only point to very minor errors.”

Extension School spokesperson Harry J. Pierre declined to comment on Greene’s behalf.

FAS spokesperson Holly J. Jensen declined to “comment on anonymous allegations other than to say there are FAS and University policies and processes in place to review workplace issues raised within the FAS, and we will follow all procedures outlined by University guidelines.”

The series of complaints suggests that alleging plagiarism has become a tool of choice for Harvard critics — such as conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo — seeking to discredit the University and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives throughout higher education.

But unlike Gay, who already faced backlash over her response to antisemitism on campus, and Charleston, whose position made her a target for DEI critics, Greene is a mid-level administrator at Harvard in a student-facing role.

Gay, who wrote that the allegations against her reflected “tired racial stereotypes” in a New York Times op-ed, ultimately requested seven corrections across two published articles and her dissertation. The controversy contributed to her resignation from Harvard’s top post.

The allegations against Charleston prompted objections to what some called a racialized pattern of plagiarism complaints targeting Black women. The view was adopted by The Crimson’s Editorial Board, which wrote in a Feb. 8 editorial that “it strains the imagination to believe that similar misconduct is limited exclusively to two prominent Black women.”

“Yet Gay and Charleston in particular have been singled out as figureheads for DEI” and “subjected to racist and sexist vitriol,” wrote the Board, which is wholly independent of The Crimson’s newsroom.

The most extensive passages in the complaint compare Greene’s summary of Jean Kim’s theory of Asian American ethnic identity formation with a similar summary in Janelle Lee Woo’s 2004 Ph.D. dissertation. Greene’s dissertation does not cite Woo’s.

The complaint also points to a table in Greene’s dissertation that compares the stages of “ethnic identity development” postulated in five scholars’ models. Woo’s dissertation contains a similarly formatted table discussing four of the same models featuring identical descriptions of certain academic concepts.

Woo could not be reached for comment.

The other allegations concern scattered sentences or phrases that appear in other scholar’s publications. Most are accompanied by citations but not enclosed in quotation marks, similar to many of the more minor allegations against Gay.

Sylvia Hurtado — an education professor at UCLA who sat on Greene’s doctoral committee and whose work is referenced in seven of the allegations against Greene — said those allegations referred to methodological language describing a project Hurtado led, of which Greene was a member. Greene’s dissertation draws on data from two studies conducted by Hurtado’s team.

“I do not consider this plagiarism when the team follows the same methodological steps and there are only a few ways of describing the same procedure,” Hurtado wrote in an email. “Papers from any of the research team members will have the same procedures.”

“This is unfair to Dr. Greene who was following what the rest of the research did procedure-wise in handling the data,” Hurtado added.

The other scholars from whom Greene was accused plagiarizing did not immediately respond to comment requests sent Monday evening.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at tilly.robinson@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

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

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