Breaking: Scholars Say They Were Plagiarized By Claudine Gay, Ignored By Harvard Investigation

Harvard and its president Claudine Gay are doing damage control amid an ongoing plagiarism scandal, with the embattled leader requesting even more corrections to her past work, this time her 1997 Ph.D. dissertation — the foundation of her academic career.

But the total of seven corrections requested so far still leave dozens of other instances of potential plagiarism unresolved. And scholars who believe their work was plagiarized have told National Review that they were never contacted by Harvard as part of its investigation into Gay's academic work.

For instance, it does not appear that any of the corrections will address portions of Gay's doctoral dissertation drawing heavily from the work of Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain, in some cases reproducing her writing word-for-word without citation.

Swain — who has been outspoken about her feelings on the plagiarism scandal — told National Review that she is concerned with Harvard's response to the revelations of its president's academic-integrity issues.

"I have a problem with the way Harvard has reacted to the entire situation, because it seems like — with the assistance of some of their professors and other elites — they're trying to redefine what is plagiarism," Swain said, "and they're making the argument that there are different levels and, by extension, that some of it is acceptable. That is a problem for higher education in America."

A number of experts and academics contacted by National Review said that the examples of potential plagiarism that have been flagged are serious, and the large number of instances suggest a pattern.

Lee Jussim, a social psychologist and distinguished professor at Rutgers University, said he's "never seen anything like" the plagiarism scandal involving Gay.

"I can tell you, I expelled a student from my lab when I first got to Rutgers who I caught doing something not all that different — probably less — than what she has done," he said.

On Wednesday night, the Harvard Corporation announced that Gay is requesting three corrections to her dissertation. The requests come after news outlets published several examples that appear to show Gay failing to cite other researchers and in some cases using their language word-for-word in her dissertation without attribution.

The three corrections to her dissertation come after Gay previously requested four corrections in two of her academic articles.

The Harvard Corporation has not referred to any of Gay's mistakes as plagiarism, but rather as instances of "inadequate citation" and "duplicative language without appropriate attribution."

This week, National Review analyzed 30 of the disputed passages, which include many that remain unaddressed in the corrections that Gay has requested to date.

The 30 disputed passages arise from four publications: a 1993 history magazine, her 1997 Harvard dissertation, and two Urban Affairs Review journal articles from 2012 and 2017. In some of the cases, Gay appears to have put her citations in the wrong place or to have failed to put quotation marks around language she took verbatim from other academics. In other cases, she appears to have lifted large swaths of language from other researchers — including some of her Harvard colleagues — without any attribution at all.

Gay is even accused of lifting language from a Harvard colleague for the acknowledgement section of her dissertation.

Prominent academics, plagiarism experts, Harvard students, and the Boston Globe editorial board are now calling for Harvard to take an even closer look at Gay's academic record, and to be clear about what, exactly, they find.

Harvard's citation policies are clear that quotations be placed in quotation marks and cited, and that paraphrased material "be acknowledged completely." The policies prohibit both "verbatim plagiarism"— failing to properly quote and cite specific language — and "mosaic plagiarism," which involves copying bits and pieces from sources and changing some words "without adequately paraphrasing or quoting directly."

"Taking credit for anyone else's work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident," a Harvard policy states. The policy was much the same in 1997, when Gay wrote her doctoral dissertation.

The policy appears to be rigorously enforced against the students Gay presides over: During the 2020-2021 academic year, while Gay was serving as dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 27 students were forced to withdraw from the university after being found in violation of the school's academic-integrity policies, the Harvard Crimson reported.

The university first learned of the plagiarism allegations in late October from the New York Post, according to a summary of the Harvard Corporation's review, portions of which were posted on X on Wednesday night by a reporter with The Chronicle of Higher Education. National Review has requested a copy of the summary from Harvard.

In a statement supporting Gay earlier this month, the fellows of Harvard College wrote that after they became aware of some of the allegations, they initiated "an independent review" of Gay's published work by "distinguished political scientists." The review revealed "a few instances of inadequate citation" but "no violation of Harvard's standards for research misconduct."

The statement was vague, and did not specify any specific problems with Gay's work. Gay "proactively" requested four corrections to two articles from 2001 and 2017 "to insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications," according to the statement.

The review of the initial allegations was conducted by a three-member panel of experts who "have no ties to Harvard and are among the nation's most respected political scientists," according to a summary released on Wednesday..

A subcommittee of the Harvard Corporation, the university's governing body, reviewed the rest of Gay's published work, but didn't initially review her dissertation, according to the summary. The subcommittee reviewed her dissertation only after media reports flagged potential issues.

The Harvard Corporation said in its summary of its review that Gay's errors, including the citation errors in her dissertation, were "regrettable."

"Neither the independent panel nor the subcommittee of the Corporation found evidence of intentional deception or recklessness in Gay's work, which is a required element for a determination of research misconduct," under the school's governing policy, the summary states.

Harvard’s delay in identifying errors in Gay’s doctoral thesis “means that they, almost certainly, did not do a thorough review of her past work,” according to Jonathan Bailey, a plagiarism expert and consultant who publishes the website Plagiarism Today.

“It's frustrating that Harvard (or even Gay herself) didn't thoroughly investigate her prior works and, seemingly, just checked and responded to the initial allegations. They had an opportunity to get ahead of this and missed it,” Bailey said.

For Swain, the Vanderbilt University professor whose work Gay's doctoral dissertation drew heavily from, Gay's failure to adhere to ethical standards in something as foundational as her doctoral dissertation presents a significant problem for Harvard.

"To earn a doctorate, you have to have a dissertation that's supposed to be original in some sort of way. You defend it and they hand you a doctorate, but they cannot hand you a doctorate for work that's plagiarized," Swain said in an interview with NR. "So that's the bigger issue that they're avoiding. And what they are hoping is that people who understand academia won't raise those questions."

The 30 plagiarism allegations provided to National Review appear to be the same ones that were previously provided to the Washington Free Beacon. On Tuesday, the Free Beacon reported on a handful of additional allegations against Gay, including alleged plagiarism in two more of her publications.

Attempts by National Review to reach Gay and a Harvard spokesperson on the phone and via email were unsuccessful this week.

‘Between Black and White’

The earliest allegations of plagiarism against Gay stem from a November 1993 article she wrote for a history magazine called Origins. Originally published by a Canadian firm, Origins is now a joint online publication of the Ohio State University and Miami University of Ohio history departments. Origins is not an academic journal.

Gay's article, Between Black and White: The Complexity of Brazilian Race Relations, is six-pages long and focuses on the lack of collective political action by Afro-Brazilians. At the time, Gay was a recent graduate of Stanford University and a graduate student at Harvard.

Gay's article doesn't have any citations, but the piece includes a "Suggestions for Further Reading" section at the end, which mentions five works.

Of the 30 allegations of plagiarism against Gay reviewed by National Review, eleven of them came from her Origins article. In several cases, the language Gay uses in the article is similar to the language used by three other academics, two of whom she included in her suggested readings and one of whom was not mentioned at all.

For example, this paragraph from Gay reproduces language first used in an article by historian George Reid Andrews published a year earlier, but doesn't attribute it to him. Gay included a book by Andrews in her suggested reading list.

Gay: It was a younger generation of Afro-Brazilians, many with one or more years of university education, that were among the first and most eager respondents to the MNU ‘s organizational call. Their eagerness was in large part a measure of the economic and political exclusion they had suffered under the military dictatorship.

As their numbers grew, it was their aspirations and rhetoric which came to define the organization. The movement became an expression of frustration among upwardly mobile Afro-Brazilians denied admission to the middle-class status to which their education and qualifications entitled them. To that extent, the aspirations of these activists were too removed from the lives of the poor to facilitate cross-class linkages.

Compare that to the language used by Andrews in his journal article.

Andrews: a younger generation of Afro-Brazilians, many with one or more years of university study, were starting to organise a new black movement in response to the economic and political exclusion which they were experiencing under the dictatorship. This movement, most vividly symbolised by the Movimento Negro Unificado, created in Sao Paulo in 1978 …

This new movement of the 1970s and 1980s was to a large degree the expression of frustration among upwardly mobile Afro-Brazilians denied admission to the middle-class status to which their education and qualifications entitled them. Its activists worked hard at recruiting support in the slums and favelas of the urban periferia, but their rhetoric and aspirations often seemed somewhat removed from the lives of poor and working-class blacks facing the immediate, grinding problems of poverty, crime and hunger.

In at least two cases, the language Gay used in her article is similar to the language that David Covin, an academic and activist, used in a 1990 journal article. Here is one example:

Gay: On June 18, 1978, representatives from a number of Afro-Brazilian organizations, outraged by a series of racially-motivated incidents, joined forces in Sao Paulo to form the Unified Movement Against Racial Discrimination (MUCDR).

As their first project, MUCDR organized a July 7, 1978 demonstration to protest two acts: (a) the April 28 beating death of black worker Robson Silveira da Luz, by a Sao Paulo policeman; and (b) the May expulsion of four young black athletes from the volleyball team of the Tiete Yacht Club because of their color. Two thousand people participated in the protest on the steps of the Municipal Theater. The organizers read an open letter to the population in which they outlined their campaign against “racial discrimination, police oppression, unemployment, underemployment and marginalization.”

Compare that to language used by Covin in his journal article from just a few years earlier:

Covin: The earliest manifestation of the MNU was the Unified Movement Against Racial Discrimination (MUCDR). Representatives from a number of Black organizations, entidades, met at the Center of Black Art and Culture in São Paulo on June 18, 1978. They resolved to create a movement to defend the Afro-Brazilian community against racial exploitation and human disrespect. They designated as their first activity a demonstration to be held at 6:30 p.m. on July 7, 1978, at the Chá viaduct in São Paulo. The demonstration was to protest two acts: (a) the torture and assassination of a Black worker, Robson Silveira da Luz, by policemen in São Paulo on April 28, 1978; and (b) the dismissal of four Black male children from the volleyball team of the Tiete Yacht Club in May, 1978, because of their color (Gonzalez, 1982, p. 43).

The demonstration was held on the designated date on the steps of the Municipal Theater of Sao Paulo. Two thousand people were present (Gonzalez, 1982, p. 48). An open letter to the population was read.

Gay did not cite Covin or include his work in her suggested reading list.

Harvard looked into Gay’s Origins article as part of its initial investigation but determined that it did not merit correction since the article is 30 years old and the journal generally did not require citations or quotations, according to the summary of its investigation.

Bailey, the plagiarism expert and consultant, called the lack of citations but the inclusion of a suggested reading list in the Origins article "weird."

Steven McGuire, an advocate for free expression and a fellow with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said that not understanding the magazine's citation standards makes it harder to judge, but it's notable because similar issues continue to pop up in Gay's later work, including in her dissertation.

"There seems to be a consistent or ongoing pattern there of at least sloppiness that meets the definition of plagiarism that just doesn't seem to be acceptable for a professional scholar, let alone someone who is president of one of our most elite academic institutions in this country," he said.

Benjamin Johnson, a Ohio State University spokesman, said the university has not heard from anyone at Harvard about amending the article, which remains online.

‘Taking Charge’

The 30 allegations of plagiarism reviewed by National Review include three from Gay's 1997 dissertation, "Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics."

In at least two cases, Gay is accused of cribbing language without attribution from Bradley Palmquist, an assistant professor of government at Harvard at the time, and from Stephen Voss, who was a colleague in her Ph.D program. One  example includes language that is almost identical to language used by Palmquist and Voss in a paper presented just a year earlier.

Gay: The idea behind the "method of bounds" is that the beginning point for any ecological inference should be the knowledge a researcher has for certain. This knowledge includes the fact that any proportion is by definition bound by 0 and 1. Furthermore, the marginals of a table, Xi (black population density) and Ti (total turnout) dictate the minimum and maximum possible values of the cells in the table. King's method makes direct use of this information to establish absolute bounds on the values of the quantities of interest.

Compare that to a similar paragraph from Palmquist and Voss.

Palmquist and Voss: The beginning point for any ecological inference should be with the knowledge we have for certain. Almost from the beginning of methodological work in this area, researchers have used the fact that proportions must by definition be between 0 and 1 (Duncan, Cuzzort, and Duncan 1961; Achen and Shively 1995). Recently, Gary King (n.d.) has emphasized the particular advantages of using the precinct-by-precinct constraints. Making direct use of this information to establish absolute (i.e. not probabilistic) bounds on the percentages of the internal cells is entirely straightforward. For any single table (either of a precinct or of a the [sic] state as a whole), the marginals dictate a minimum and maximum possible value for each of the cells.

Gay has requested to add "quotations and/or citations" to portions of her dissertation drawn from Palmquist and Voss, according to Harvard.

In an interview with National Review before Gay requested the corrections to her dissertation, Voss said he did not believe all the allegations of plagiarism against Gay were clear cut and added that he did not take personal offense. He did not publish his paper but presented it at a conference, he said, and the content in question often involved technical language. But, he said, his examples are "considered the smoking gun."

"We're not even cited, so a lot of the justifications people have been giving for what Claudine did don't apply to my paper," Voss said. "Things like, 'well, she cited it but just not near where she was using their words,' or, 'she quoted them but didn't point out that these other things were quotes too,' all these sorts of excuses that were given don't apply to mine."

Voss said no one at Harvard gave him a heads up about the allegations of plagiarism or their review of those allegations.

"I've not heard from Claudine Gay, and in fact not heard from anyone at Harvard, either when they conducted their investigation or, you know, someone in their public-relations office to try to coach me on how to answer," Voss said. "I have literally not heard from a single person at Harvard University since this story emerged."

Gay also is accused of lifting language from a Harvard colleague in her dissertation's acknowledgment section. In her acknowledgement, Gay wrote that she is grateful to her advisor, professor Gary King, who "reminded me of the importance of getting the data right and following where they lead without fear or favor." She also thanked her family, "who drove me harder than I sometimes wanted to be driven."

Jennifer Hochschild, who was a professor at Princeton at the time and who is now at Harvard, used those same phrases in the acknowledgements of a paper she published a year earlier.

Hochschild downplayed the importance of what she said were minor errors on Gay’s part, telling National Review that Gay simply recycled “standard phrases that we all use in acknowledgements.”

"There's obvious political and ideological — as well as substantive — reasons behind this whole thing, and I wish to hell she'd been more careful,” Hochschild said. “But I think we have more interesting issues to worry about, and I wish you guys were worried about more interesting issues. It's not quite making a mountain out of a molehill, but a different person in a different context and different political temperature would be treated differently."

Like Voss, Hochschild told National Review that no one from Harvard reached out as part of their investigation into Gay's record; she only learned of the allegation when a reporter reached out.

Redefining Plagiarism?

Earlier this month, journalists Christopher Rufo and Christopher Brunet published additional allegations of plagiarism in Gay's dissertation. They found at least three problematic patterns of usage and citation in Gay's dissertation, they said.

According to Rufo's and Brunet's reporting, Gay appears to have taken language and ideas from Swain, the former Vanderbilt professor. Gay's dissertation contains nearly word-for-word reproduction of passages from her 1995 book, Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress.

A feature in the September-October 2023 issue of Harvard Magazine titled A Scholar's Scholar tracks Gay's career in celebration of her July 2023 ascendancy to the university's highest leadership position. Her dissertation is described in the piece as having included "significant findings," but Swain believes the work simply drew from her own research, for which she was never credited.

"That article specifically mentions the areas where her research was so significant, and those were the areas that my research sort of pioneered," Swain said. "I looked at some of her articles [after the initial allegations] and there was one in particular — in the American Political Science Review — on descriptive representation. I would have expected her to engage my work, to put a citation in the article, because she was building on ideas that came directly from my research."

Swain said she learned that Gay appeared to have copied her language and ideas after Rufo's initial thread on X bringing the allegations to light. The university did not contact her over the course of its clandestine investigation into Gay's writings, which was only brought to light as a result of reporting on the similarities between the Harvard president's published work and that of academics like Swain.

'Moving to Opportunity' & 'A Room for One's Own'

There are at least 16 allegations of plagiarism in two of Gay's Urban Affairs Review journal articles, Moving to Opportunity: The Political Effects of a Housing Mobility Experiment from 2012, and A Room for One's Own? The Partisan Allocation of Affordable Housing from 2017.

In both cases, Gay is accused of not putting quotation marks around direct quotes and of putting citations in the wrong place – in some cases, she appears to have cited a source on one page, but then fails to cite them when she uses their information again pages later.

In A Room for One's Own? for example, she cites the work of her Harvard Colleagues, Stephen Ansolabehere and James Snyder Jr., on one page of her 30-page paper, but doesn't cite them again, even when she seems to use their language and work later in her paper.

For example, Gay's paper reads:

Gay: Theory predicts an interaction between county partisanship and party control, such that the more Democratic a county, the more LIHTC allocations it should receive when the state is under Democratic control; if the relationship is symmetrical, as Hypothesis 1 predicts, a more Republican county should benefit when the state is under Republican control.

Compare that to language in Ansolabehere and Snyder's paper from 2006:

Ansolabehere and Snyder: Theoretical arguments predict an interaction between partisanship of voters and party control of state government. Democratic counties are expected to receive more transfers when the state is under Democratic control than when the state is under Republican control; and Republican counties should receive more transfers when the state is under Republican control.

In A Room for One's Own, Gay also uses language that appears to be drawn from a previous paper by Miami University professor Anne Williamson, who told the Post she was "angry" when she first learned that Gay had relied on her work without citation.

Contacted after Harvard announced the initial corrections, Williamson told National Review she was "satisfied that Dr. Gay has pledged to add appropriate quotation marks and citations to articles where she may have inadvertently drawn on my work (and the works of others) without attribution."

Several academics who have reviewed the allegations and spoke to National Review said they believe that at least some of the allegations clearly constitute plagiarism.

"If you take the material altogether, it seems to me likely that a student who would have been subjected to disciplinary action for failing properly to quote and credit," Robert George, a Princeton professor, said in an email.

Bailey, the plagiarism expert, agreed that at least some of the allegations "are serious and I would want investigated. The cribbing of Palmquist and Voss's language stood out, he said. However, he doesn't believe that several others rise to that level.

"A lot of these didn't show anything to me other than two writers talking about the same topic in somewhat similar ways," he said.

Harvard, he said, should be more transparent, including releasing the results of the review its panel already conducted.

"That sounds like a minimal thing to expect," Jussim, the Rutgers professor, said. "At this point, someone probably should go through everything she's written, because who knows if all of it has even been uncovered."

Ultimately, he said, he suspects Gay will be protected. Most high-level university administrators are "not really there for their scholarship," he said, and that likely includes Gay.

If advancing ideology is Gay's primary mission as Harvard president, he said, "who cares about any of this?"

A Double Standard?

Harvard has a track record of punishing students for plagiarism in accordance with its official policy, but the prospect of selective treatment for high-profile faculty members and administrators has been raised before.

A 2005 Harvard Crimson editorial complains of a "woeful double standard" between the expectations for students and for faculty, pointing to professor Laurence H. Tribe's failure "to credit text lifted verbatim from Henry J. Abraham's book 'Justices and Presidents'" in his own 1985 "God Save This Honorable Court."

"For the public face of Harvard and for internal relations as well," the editors wrote at the time, "it is crucial that the university maintain more consistent disciplinary rules for instances of academic dishonesty."

In fall 2022, the Harvard Crimson reported that, during the 2020-2021 academic year, 27 students were forced to withdraw from the university after being found in violation of the school's academic-integrity policies. Ninety-nine of the 138 cases the university's "Honor Council" reviewed during that period were found to be legitimate instances of academic dishonesty. The academic year on which the Crimson reported coincides with Gay's time overseeing graduate and undergraduate studies as dean of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“I don't know how Harvard thinks that this situation is currently tenable," McGuire said. "What Claudine Gay has done appears to violate the standards that they hold their own students to. And Harvard has not even come out and said it's plagiarism."

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Scholars Say They Were Plagiarized By Claudine Gay, Ignored By Harvard Investigation

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