LTP News Sharing:

By Christopher F. Rufo and Christopher Brunet

president Claudine Gay has problems. Touted as the first black woman to
run the nation’s most prestigious university, she assumed leadership
with high expectations, but her tenure, which began this summer, has
been mired in scandal. As dean and then president, Gay has been accused of bullying colleagues, suppressing free speech, 
overseeing a racist admissions program, and, following the Hamas terror
campaign against Israel, failing to stand up to rampant anti-Semitism
on campus.

have obtained exclusive documentation demonstrating that President Gay
may face yet another problem: plagiarism of sections of her Ph.D.
dissertation, which would violate Harvard’s own stated policies on
academic integrity. (We reached out to President Gay for comment, but
received no response.)

Gay published her dissertation, “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Policies,”
in 1997, as part of her doctorate in political science from Harvard.
The paper deals with white-black political representation and racial
attitudes. As evaluated under the university’s plagiarism policy, the paper contains at least three problematic patterns of usage and citation.

First, Gay lifts an entire paragraph nearly verbatim from Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam’s paper,
“Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment,” while
passing it off as her own paraphrase and language. Here is the original,
from Bobo and Gilliam:

1987 national sample survey data . . . the results show that blacks in
high-black-empowerment areas—as indicated by control of the mayor’s
office—are more active than either blacks living in low-empowerment
areas or their white counterparts of comparable socioeconomic status.
Furthermore, the results show that empowerment influences black
participation by contributing to a more trusting and efficacious
orientation to politics and by greatly increasing black attentiveness to
political affairs.

And here is the language from Gay’s work: 

1987 survey data, Bobo and Gilliam found that African-Americans in
“high black-empowerment” areas—as indicated by control of the mayor’s
office—are more active than either African-Americans in low empowerment
areas or their white counterparts of comparable socioeconomic status.
Empowerment, they conclude, influences black participation by
contributing to a more trusting and efficacious orientation towards
politics and by greatly increasing black attentiveness to political

Gay does provide a reference to the original authors, she uses their
verbatim language, with a few trivial synonym substitutions, without
providing quotation marks. This constitutes a clear violation of
Harvard’s policy, which states: “When you paraphrase, your task is to
distill the source’s ideas in your own words. It’s not enough to change a
few words here and there and leave the rest; instead, you must
completely restate the ideas in the passage in your own words. If your
own language is too close to the original, then you are plagiarizing,
even if you do provide a citation.”

repeats this violation throughout the document, again using work from
Bobo and Gilliam, as well as passages from Richard Shingles, Susan
Howell, and Deborah Fagan, which she reproduces nearly verbatim, without
quotation marks.

Gay appears to lift material from scholar Carol Swain in at least two
instances. In one passage, summarizing the distinction between
“descriptive representation” and “substantive representation,” she
copies the phrasing and language nearly verbatim from Swain’s book Black Faces, Black Interests, without providing a citation of any kind. Swain writes:

distinguishes between “descriptive representation,” the statistical
correspondence of the demographic characteristics … and more
“substantive representation,” the correspondence between
representatives’ goals and those of their constituents.

Gay’s version is virtually the same, with slight modifications to the diction and punctuation:

scientists have concentrated . . . between descriptive representation
(the statistical correspondence of demographic characteristics) and
substantive representation (the correspondence of legislative goals and

use of Swain’s material is a straightforward violation of the
university’s rule on “verbatim plagiarism,” which states that one “must give
credit to the author of the source material, either by placing the
source material in quotation marks and providing a clear citation, or by
paraphrasing the source material and providing a clear
citation”—neither of which Gay followed.

in the paper, Gay also uses identical language to Swain, without adding
quotation marks, as required. “Since the 1950s the reelection rate for
House members has rarely dipped below 90 percent,” reads Swain’s book,
which is the same, excepting an added comma, to the language in Gay’s
dissertation: “Since the 1950s, the reelection rate for incumbent House
members has rarely dipped below 90%.” According to Harvard’s rules, this
would be a violation of the policy on “inadequate paraphrase,” which
requires that verbatim language be placed in quotations.

Third, Gay composes an entire appendix in the dissertation directly taken from Gary King’s book, A Solution to the Ecological Inference Problem.
While she cites King’s book—in fact, King was her dissertation
advisor—Gay does not explicitly acknowledge that Appendix B is entirely
grounded in King’s concepts, instead passing it off as her own original
work. Throughout the appendix, Gay takes entire phrases and sentences
directly from King’s book, without any citations or quotation marks. In
total, Gay borrows material from King in at least half a dozen
paragraphs—all in violation of Harvard’s standard on academic integrity.

should the consequences be for President Gay, given these violations?
Some critics might object to any punishment, arguing that her
dissertation is decades old, or that these instances of plagiarism
appear to be highly technical, or even trivial. But the dissertation is
the cornerstone of an academic career, and universities impose demanding
standards of academic integrity, with severe consequences for
violators. Harvard, in particular, has a strict policy on these matters.
If a current Harvard student were to commit violations of the same
nature as Gay’s, it would lead to “disciplinary action, up to and
including requirement to withdraw from the College.” The same standard
should apply to the university president.

light of this troubling evidence, we call on Harvard’s Board of
Overseers to conduct a full investigation into Claudine Gay’s academic
integrity. The precedent for such violations has already been set at
other institutions: the president of the University of South Carolina,
for example, resigned for plagiarizing remarks he made in a commencement speech; and the president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges resigned due
to plagiarism that he committed in part of his dissertation. Gay’s case
should be treated with equal seriousness. If she has violated the code
of academic conduct, she must resign—or get voted out by the board.

Author: Frances Rice