Harvard President Claudine Gay Hit With Six New Charges Of Plagiarism

Half of Gay’s published works now implicated in growing scandal

Claudine Gay
Claudine Gay / Getty Images
January 1, 2024

Harvard University president Claudine Gay was hit with six additional allegations of plagiarism on Monday in a complaint filed with the university, breathing fresh life into a scandal that has embroiled her nascent presidency and pushing the total number of allegations near 50.

Seven of Gay’s 17 published works have already been impacted by the scandal, but the new charges, which have not been previously reported, extend into an eighth: In a 2001 article, Gay lifts nearly half a page of material verbatim from another scholar, David Canon, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin.

That article, "The Effect of Minority Districts and Minority Representation on Political Participation in California," includes some of the most extreme and clear-cut cases of plagiarism yet. At one point, Gay borrows four sentences from Canon’s 1999 book, Race, Redistricting, and Representation: The Unintended Consequences of Black Majority Districts, without quotation marks and with only minor semantic tweaks. She does not cite Canon anywhere in or near the passage, though he does appear in the bibliography.

Beyond that, Gay’s first two footnotes are copied verbatim from Canon’s endnotes.

Canon, like several of the scholars Gay has quoted without attribution, insisted that she had done nothing wrong.

"I am not at all concerned about the passages," Canon told the Washington Free Beacon. "This isn't even close to an example of academic plagiarism."

Though Harvard's governing board, the Harvard Corporation, said in mid-December that it had reviewed Gay’s published oeuvre and found several cases of "inadequate citation," it did not identify any of the examples described in the new complaint, which was submitted to the school’s research integrity officer, Stacey Springs, and obtained by the Free Beacon.

The discrepancy raises troubling questions not just about the scope of Gay’s plagiarism, which appears to afflict half of her published works, but also the thoroughness and seriousness of the Corporation’s probe, which the board described as "an independent review by distinguished political scientists."

The review was completed in just a few weeks—far less time than the 6 to 12 months typical of other plagiarism investigations—and the Corporation has refused to disclose the names of the academics who conducted it. A Harvard spokesman, Jonathan Swain, did not respond to a request for comment about whether the school has reviewed all of Gay’s work, and, if so, how it missed the examples unearthed on Monday.

"The board’s review of Gay’s work was too brief to inspire confidence," the complaint reads. "So we now know for certain that the board’s investigation was a sham."

The allegations filed Monday also include more material from Gay’s dissertation, which has already received three corrections. In one of the new examples, Gay, who works in quantitative political science, lifts a full sentence from her thesis adviser, Gary King, to describe a mathematical model. She does not cite King in parentheses or put his words in quotation marks.

While some of Gay’s defenders have claimed that technical descriptions do not require attribution in the social sciences, since there are only so many ways to explain a method or a formula, a Harvard handbook from 1998—the year Gay completed her dissertation—says otherwise.

"Citing tells your readers that the strategy or method isn’t original with you and allows them to consult its original context," the handbook states. King, who has downplayed previous charges against Gay, did not respond to a request for comment.

The rest of the new examples center on a 1996 paper by Frank Gilliam, "Exploring Minority Empowerment: Symbolic Politics, Governing Coalitions and Traces of Political Style in Los Angeles," that Gay repeatedly quotes without attribution, changing just a few words here or there. Those passages describe big-picture findings and do not include technical verbiage. Gilliam, now the chancellor of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, did not respond to a request for comment.

The new complaint comes as an increasing number of Harvard students are speaking out against Gay, arguing that she has been held to a lower standard than the average undergraduate. One student on Harvard’s honor council, a jury-like body that adjudicates allegations of plagiarism and cheating, wrote in an anonymous op-ed that students are routinely suspended for doing what Gay did. Some students have called on Gay to resign, and others seem reluctant to defend their embattled president.

"President Gay Plagiarized, but She Should Stay," read the headline of a Harvard Crimson editorial. "For Now." The paper says the allegations of plagiarism are focused on "her PhD dissertation and two of her 11 published journal articles," leaving out the many allegations relating to articles that were not peer-reviewed.

The paper's qualified editorial position—"for now"—represents a shift in tone from the paper’s editorial board, which previously opined that—for the sake of a "free democracy"—Gay "must not yield" to "partisan attacks" in the wake of her disastrous testimony on anti-Semitism.

Gay’s most outspoken defenders have been her faculty colleagues. Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor, told the New York Times that the plagiarism charges were ginned up by "professional vilifiers" and "bad faith" actors—and went on to suggest the university may not cooperate with the congressional investigation underway into its adjudication of Gay’s work.

Another Harvard lawyer, Charles Fried, was more explicit, describing the allegations as an "extreme right-wing attack on elite institutions."

"If it came from some other quarter, I might be granting it some credence," he told the Times. "But not from these people."

Harvard said in December that Gay’s "duplicative language," while "regrettable," did not constitute research misconduct because it was not "intentional or reckless," citing a policy that only governs faculty and is less stringent than the rules for students.

But as more allegations have surfaced, some professors have begun to break ranks. A few told the Boston Globe in December that Gay’s treatment reeked of hypocrisy and double standards. And Omar Haque, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and a member of the university’s Council on Academic Freedom, said that the sheer breadth of the examples—especially those from the pre-word processor days—made it hard to fathom that everything was unintentional.

"Gay's alleged plagiarism in the 1990s may be more serious than in in recent years," he told the Free Beacon, "because prior to the use of computers to highlight and copy/paste text in seconds, plagiarism was more likely to be non-accidental and intentional and reckless."

Haque, who said he was speaking only in a personal capacity, added that it took "greater effort" to plagiarize with a typewriter.

The blowback has been exacerbated by the Harvard Corporation’s feckless response to the allegations, which it initially tried to squash with a legal threat to the New York Post—and to the unnamed whistleblower who brought those allegations to the Post’s attention.

Through the bellicose litigation boutique Clare Locke, Harvard said in October that it would sue for "immense damages" if the Post published a story on the charges. It also "threatened to use legal means to out who had supplied the comparisons," according to the paper’s reporting.

That person, a professor at another university, whom the Free Beacon has identified and granted anonymity, is behind the Monday complaint to Harvard, as well as a separate complaint last month alleging around 40 cases of plagiarism. While several Harvard scholars have faced plagiarism allegations since the early 2000s, none have seen such a large percentage of their work implicated.

Beyond outlining the new charges against Gay, the latest complaint—25 pages of which are devoted to outlining the various examples of Gay's alleged plagiarism—argues that Harvard’s legal saber-rattling violated its research misconduct policy for faculty, which forbids retaliation against complainants.

"At one point Gay and Harvard asked the Post, ‘Why would someone making such a complaint be unwilling to attach their name to it,’" the Monday complaint reads. "I was unwilling because I feared that Gay and Harvard would violate their policies, behave more like a cartel with a hedge fund attached than a university, try to seek ‘immense’ damages from me and who knows what else."