JAIMEE MARSHALL: Claudine Gay shows woke academia is immune to self-awareness

Harvard President Claudine Gay has finally resigned from her post after a month of scrutiny, damning plagiarism allegations, and hypocrisy in handling discrimination and threats of violence on campus; but it’s hardly a victory. Harvard has proven not only that it’s more interested in advancing the racial interests of radical social justice activists than maintaining consistent academic standards but that Gay will likely be replaced by yet another cog in the Diversity & Equity machine.

This all started after a disastrous four-hour testimony during a House Education Committee Hearing on antisemitism on college campuses. Several leaders of Ivy League institutions were grilled for their handling of on-campus anti-semitism and calls to commit genocide against Jews. Suddenly, the public was made aware of Gay’s facilitation of a hostile campus environment for students of certain backgrounds and hiding behind the veneer of a newly adopted devotion to free speech. I say new, as this passion for free speech advocacy was glaringly absent when it came to letting go of the former Winthrop House faculty dean for representing Harvey Weinstein.

What was laid bare in that antisemitism hearing was the colossal hypocrisy within academia. After instituting and vigorously defending Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies that create a culture of self-censorship and an explicit preference for checking minority boxes, Gay’s refusal to condemn calls for genocide targeted at Jews is shameful and rife with hypocrisy. When questioned by Rep. Stefanik if calls for genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s code of conduct, she insisted it was a context-dependent issue instead of a resounding “yes.” She had also stood by a group of students who wrote a letter blaming Israel entirely for the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, insisting they have the freedom of speech to express such a view. I might be able to understand that position so long as a public figure has demonstrated they applied these standards consistently and universally, but who are we kidding?

Harvard, as an institution, has hardly earned a reputation for defending freedom of expression, with recent research ranking Harvard dead last in free speech, a study that also indicated concerning levels of support for blocking students from attending speeches and using violence to prevent a campus speech from taking place. In 2022, Campus Reform reported that Harvard students undergoing mandatory Title IX training were told that failing to use a student’s preferred pronouns could be a violation of their sexual misconduct and harassment policies.

Gay’s supposed concerns for protecting the “right to free expression, even of views that are objectionable, offensive, and hateful” have been noticeably absent, Rep. Stefanik reminded her, for students whose offers of admission to Harvard were rescinded for sharing offensive memes and racist statements, even revoking an acceptance for conservative Kyle Kashuv for past statements he made when he was 16 years old. This seems to be a trend among both Harvard as an institution and Gay, as reigning president. Rules for thee, but not for me.

Gay’s inconsistency extended outside of her personal social politics and into her academic scholarship. Allegations of plagiarism came to light, exposing her already notably sparse publication record for lacking in originality and proper citations. This is where things started to go off the rails. On the one hand, you had serious academics and alumni from Harvard, including some who were improperly cited by Gay (a very serious academic violation that would result in immediate disciplinary action for a student), bringing light to the issue. On the other, you had Harvard, the media, and Gay herself denying all wrongdoing, shifting blame onto the people raising valid concerns, and doing what academics do best – hiding behind a shield of race-baiting for daring to question the merits of a sitting Harvard president.

Back in December, Gay told The Boston Globe she stands by the integrity of her scholarship, “Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards." A new complaint has been filed with the university, bringing the total of Gay’s plagiarism allegations up to 50 examples detected in her works, including six never-before-seen allegations. This comes after Harvard’s supposed “thorough” investigation that led them to unanimously stand by Gay in the face of controversy and calls for her resignation. Back in October, when The New York Post reached out to Harvard about allegations of plagiarism levied against Gay, Harvard insisted the allegations were “demonstrably false” before they had even investigated her.

As it turns out, Claudine Gay’s plagiarism woes are much more extensive and serious than first reported. The Harvard Corporation, Harvard’s top governing board, conducted an inquiry into plagiarism allegations, which were carried out swiftly and discreetly. The inquiry was completed within a few weeks rather than the standard 6 to 12 months that are typical of most plagiarism investigations. This was the first red flag. No, this was the second red flag. The first was when Harvard threatened The New York Post in December with a defamation lawsuit if they published accusations of plagiarism.

Even after the Harvard Corporation’s own investigation, they detected several instances of plagiarism, including her doctoral thesis that earned her tenure at Harvard. The university generously concluded that it was merely a result of improper citation; the implication being that she did not maliciously attempt to pawn the work of other scholars’ research as her own. Gay was also accused of botching her own research that led to her tenure, citing logical inconsistencies in her paper. She refused to share her data with two professors who questioned her methodology.

The new plagiarism revelations, however, are reputation-destroying. They include more copied material in Gay’s dissertation, even after she has made 3 corrections. Gay also transplants half a page from a book written by David Canon, a University of Wisconsin professor of political science, in a 2001 article. She quotes him verbatim without any attribution. She also fails to include attributions to Frank Gilliam for his 1996 paper, in which she all but changes a few words around. With 52 total examples of plagiarism across 7 of her 17 published works, that characterizes about half of her published works. The most damning detail is that none of the new plagiarism complaints were identified in Harvard’s probe of the president. This is seemingly because they only focused on her peer-reviewed journals rather than the big picture of Gay’s articles.

It raises questions about the political motivations surrounding Gay’s tenure and candidacy for Harvard president as a scholar with very few publications (only eleven peer-reviewed journal papers) and an unusual absence of book publications for someone of her position. Most of her works exclusively concern social issues like race, and she has proudly spearheaded Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies that prioritize identity and diversity over merit. As an advocate of DEI, she oversaw Harvard’s controversial racially motivated admissions process – a process deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court when it overturned affirmative action. Not only has Gay expressed her discontentment with the ruling, but promised to remain steadfast in her commitment to producing diversity at Harvard. Keep in mind, this decision found that Harvard’s consideration of race as a determining factor of who should get into a university resulted in discrimination, particularly of white and asian americans.

This only brings to light what anyone who has attended college in the past eight years knew all too well – that academia has become a cult of personality whose bloviated egos reign like tyrannical dictators. Gay represents an elite ruling class who skate by on omnipresent claims of marginalization. It’s only after irreparable damage to Harvard’s reputation, including a $1 billion loss in donations and condemnation from Harvard alumni, that Gay is now resigning, but not without sidestepping the core issue and gaslighting the public into believing this was an issue about race. With no apology or accountability for her mistakes, let alone any acknowledgment of her plagiarism, she refuses to fall on her own sword. Instead, Gay is going out just as she had come in – as a political pawn in the hands of an identity-obsessed charade.

In her resignation letter, she claims she was “subjected to frightening personal attacks and threats fueled by racial animus.” This is not only untrue and a gross dismissal of the serious concerns that students and academics have with upholding the integrity of the revered Ivy League institution—but in direct contradiction to reality. It looks like Gay was brought in precisely because of her identity, not in spite of it. Harvard also released a statement, again ignoring the plagiarizing elephant in the room, “While President Gay has acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them, it is also true that she has shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks.” What the sustained attacks were about is conveniently omitted.

Harvard’s complicity in this gross political theater is why we shouldn’t expect any change to come from her successor. Harvard’s decision to stand by Gay in the face of damning hypocrisies and academic violations only shows Harvard, and academia more broadly, are no longer interested in facilitating a serious space for learning. This is signaled by their refusal to fire her or admit any wrongdoing. It reveals the incompatibility of DEI with genuine social justice because some minority communities are treated with more reverence than others. What used to be considered our most sacred institutions are now no more than mouthpieces for regressive ideologies who seek to preserve, not move on from oppressor-oppressed dynamics. When you’re a hammer, everything’s a nail.
 

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