Harvard President Will Update Dissertation after Plagiarism Allegations

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post
Harvard University President Claudine Gay testifies during a House Education and Workforce Committee Hearing on holding campus leaders accountable and confronting antisemitism on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Harvard University’s president Claudine Gay will request additional corrections to her scholarship, school officials announced Wednesday, as scrutiny intensified on her academic work amid plagiarism allegations and a congressional inquiry.

Gay will submit three updates to her 1997 dissertation, according to university officials, adding quotations and citations to properly credit other scholars’ work.

The review concluded that her inadequate citations did not constitute research misconduct.

It was another sign of the intensifying pressure on the Harvard president, as a congressional committee announced an inquiry into the university’s handling of plagiarism allegations on Wednesday.

Gay was already under fire for her recent congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. Earlier this month, Gay and two other university presidents faced outrage after testimony before a House panel during which they would not say that calls for the genocide of Jews violated their universities’ codes of conduct. Gay later apologized and clarified her remarks, the campus newspaper the Harvard Crimson reported. The University of Pennsylvania’s president, Liz Magill, announced her resignation soon after the hearing.

Harvard’s top governing board announced its unanimous support for Gay last week. The board also said at the time it had reviewed plagiarism allegations and cleared her of any serious wrongdoing, although she asked for corrections to add missing quotation marks and citations to two published articles. The Harvard Corporation said last week that political scientists who reviewed the works found “a few instances of inadequate citation” but “no violation of Harvard’s standards for research misconduct.”

But questions continued – including allegations of plagiarism in her dissertation that had not been considered in the school’s review.

Last week saw an outpouring of support for Gay. Hundreds of faculty members signed onto a letter urging the school to defend its independence and resist political pressures – including calls to remove the president. On Thursday, one faculty member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said they were troubled by the idea that Gay might be held to a different – and lower – standard than students are.

Jennifer Hochschild, a professor of government and African and African American studies, has been supportive of Gay’s presidency. She said she is troubled by the number of incidences of alleged plagiarism but that the individual cases are trivial – she sees no substantive theft of ideas.

“Plagiarism is not a kind of a single on-off switch. There’s variations in the degree of malfeasance. It sounds like a – God forbid – ‘You know, it depends on the context,'” she said, referring to a phrase the university presidents repeated during congressional testimony. “We’ve learned we’re not supposed to say that anymore, right?”

“There’s a lot of attack which is just mean-spirited and completely hypocritical,” she said. “But it’s politically very powerful – and it has enough truth behind it that one can’t just shrug it off.

“It makes us look like we have a double standard.”

According to university officials, after questions from the New York Post in October about some of Gay’s published work, Gay asked the Harvard Corporation to conduct an independent review. The inquiry was not led by the research integrity units at the university or its Faculty of Arts and Sciences – to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to school officials, since those offices report to the president. Instead, a subcommittee of the board and a panel of three political scientists unaffiliated with Harvard considered the allegations.

The initial review included works questioned by the New York Post, as well as all of Gay’s published work from 1993 to 2019. It did not include her 1997 dissertation.

But even as the board was meeting to deliberate, new plagiarism allegations surfaced, including an article in the Washington Free Beacon and social media posts from Christopher Rufo, an activist affiliated with conservative organizations.

On Wednesday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee launched a review of plagiarism allegations against Gay, demanding documents regarding the claims and the university’s responses, a list of disciplinary actions taken by the university for violations of academic integrity since 2019, and others.

In a letter to Penny Pritzker, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation, the committee chair, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), wrote, “Our concern is that standards are not being applied consistently, resulting in different rules for different members of the academic community. If a university is willing to look the other way and not hold faculty accountable for engaging in academically dishonest behavior, it cheapens its mission and the value of its education.”

The university released a detailed timeline of how the university has responded to plagiarism allegations Wednesday. And it announced new findings: The subcommittee of the Corporation found “one replica of a missing citation or quotation mark that had already been identified in a published paper and that has since been corrected, along with two other examples of duplicative language without appropriate attribution.”

Gay will correct those inadequate citations in her dissertation, school officials said.

The review announced last week did not find evidence of “intentional deception or recklessness” in Gay’s work, a required element for a determination of research misconduct, according to Harvard’s policy. But it found instances that did not comply with the university’s standards on using sources.

Those included instances where quotation marks were missing but authors were cited in the same paragraph or an adjacent paragraph, and cases where authors’ names should have been cited.

Those inadequate citations were regrettable, the review concluded – but did not constitute research misconduct.

An anonymous complaint was filed with the research integrity office at the school’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Tuesday, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Those allegations included the issues already reviewed and four new accusations that the board’s subcommittee has determined to be meritless, school officials said.