Fresh Allegations of Plagiarism Unearthed in Official Academic Complaint Against Claudine Gay

Harvard's Research Integrity Office received the complaint on Tuesday, detailing over 40 cases of alleged plagiarism

Claudine Gay (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
December 19, 2023

Harvard University on Tuesday received a complaint outlining over 40 allegations of plagiarism against its embattled president, Claudine Gay. The document paints a picture of a pattern of misconduct more extensive than has been previously reported and puts the Harvard Corporation, the university's governing body—which said it initiated an "independent review" of Gay's scholarship and issued a statement of support for her leadership—back in the spotlight.

The new allegations, which were submitted to Harvard's research integrity officer, Stacey Springs, include the examples reported by the Washington Free Beacon and other outlets, as well as dozens of additional cases in which Gay quoted or paraphrased authors without proper attribution, according to a copy of the complaint reviewed by the Free Beacon. They range from missing quotation marks around a few phrases or sentences to entire paragraphs lifted verbatim.

The full list of examples spans seven of Gay's publications—two more than previously reported—which comprise almost half of her scholarly output. Though the Harvard Corporation said earlier this month that it initiated an independent review of Gay's work in October and found "no violation of Harvard's standards for research misconduct," that probe focused on just three papers.

"[I]t is impossible that your office has already reviewed the entirety of these materials," the complaint reads, "as many … have not been previously reported or submitted."

All allegations of faculty plagiarism must be reviewed by Harvard's research integrity officer, according to the school's official policies, and if deemed credible are referred for further investigation. A guilty finding can result in a range of consequences—including "suspension," "rank reduction," and "termination of employment."

In determining the appropriate sanction, the school claims to consider whether the misconduct "was an isolated event or part of a pattern."

Lurking in the background of the complaint is the question of whether Gay, Harvard's 30th president, will be held to the same standards as the university's own students, dozens of whom are disciplined for plagiarism each year. The school has typically been softer on faculty accused of academic dishonesty, either giving them a symbolic slap on the wrist or dismissing the charges altogether.

The double standard has outraged students. In 2005, for example, Harvard declined to sanction one of its star law professors, Larry Tribe, after he plagiarized just one author. The Harvard Crimson's editorial board lambasted the "glaring double standard" and demanded Tribe be punished.

"Students caught plagiarizing are routinely suspended for semesters or even entire academic years," the paper wrote. "For professors who plagiarize, however, not even a modicum of punishment seems to be in play."

The Free Beacon independently verified the veracity of the new allegations against Gay as well as the identity of the complainant—a professor at another university—who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. Harvard did not respond to a request for comment.

The complaint is likely to brighten the klieg lights on Gay in the wake of her disastrous congressional testimony, during which she offered vague and at times tone-deaf answers to questions about anti-Semitism—including one excruciating exchange in which Gay refused to say that calls for genocide violate Harvard policy. The testimony prompted an emergency meeting of the Harvard Corporation to decide Gay's fate.

As the board was deliberating, the Free Beacon reported that Gay had plagiarized nearly 20 scholars over the course of her career. Additional examples were uncovered by the Manhattan Institute's Christopher Rufo, Karlstack's Chris Brunet, and the New York Post's Isabel Vincent.

In its statement voicing support for Gay, the Harvard Corporation, which is led by Obama administration secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker and includes the former presidents of Princeton University and Amherst College, did not clarify who conducted the investigation into Gay's research, which articles it covered, or whether it adhered to Harvard's policies for investigating research misconduct. Spokesmen for Gay and the Harvard Corporation did not respond to requests for comment.

The statement also omitted that Harvard retained the bulldog litigation firm Clare Locke, which boasts on its website of representing those "unfairly targeted by the media." Clare Locke then "threatened" the Post—the outlet that first brought the articles to the school's attention—with legal action, according to the Post’s reporting, successfully suppressing the story for nearly two months. Clare Locke's "unfairly targeted" clients include Matt Lauer and Russian oligarchs such as Oleg Deripaska, who is under U.S. sanctions.

Though the initial review cleared Gay of any wrongdoing, the corporation said that the president was "proactively requesting" corrections on two papers.

The new complaint could force a more comprehensive reckoning at a time when even liberal media outlets, including the Boston Globe, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Crimson, are taking concerns about Gay's scholarship seriously. It could also hold Harvard's feet to the fire over the school's legal threat to the Post—a move the complaint says violated the school's own research misconduct policy, which forbids retaliation against complainants.

Even "apparent retaliation" must be reported to Harvard's research integrity officer, who should "protect and restore the position and reputation of the person against whom the retaliation is directed," the policy states. The complaint asks Harvard to open a separate inquiry into whether this policy was followed.

"Any reasonable person would see confrontation by a university-paid defamation lawyer as 'apparent retaliation' against the complainant," the complaint reads. "Any Harvard personnel involved in this decision should be investigated for potential violation of the policy against retaliation in these proceedings."