Claudine Gay and the debasement of academia

The Harvard plagiarism scandal reveals that there’s one rule for the woke and another for everyone else.

Jenny Holland

Topics Identity Politics USA

Plagiarism is a cardinal sin of the academic world. It is almost universally considered to be an act for which there is little to no redemption. The usual punishment is being expelled from your institution. Unless, apparently, you are the president of Harvard.

Harvard president Claudine Gay’s academic work has recently come under scrutiny for what looks like plagiarism. Earlier this week, conservative writer Chris Rufo made a series of posts on X showing examples of Gay’s work that were eerily similar to that of other scholars. And it turns out the New York Post has been investigating allegations of plagiarism against Gay since October. The Post this week revealed that it was threatened by a high-powered defamation lawyer hired by Harvard as part of an attempt to cover up these alleged academic misdeeds.

Despite these revelations, Gay’s position is safe for now. Harvard’s board issued a statement yesterday saying ‘we… reaffirm our support for President Gay’s continued leadership of Harvard University’.

It’s been a bad few weeks for America’s most prestigious college. The latest news about Gay comes hot on the heels of her disastrous testimony before the US congress last week, during which she refused to say whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate her university’s code of conduct. Gay argued that it would ‘depend on the context’ as to whether Harvard would treat such speech as harassment. Without any hint of irony, Gay claimed that Harvard is committed to preserving free speech. This is the same university that, under Gay’s presidency, came last in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s annual free-speech rankings. Harvard scored a shocking 0.0 on a 100 point scale.

In fact, despite posing as a free-speech champion in front of congress, Gay is well known for her dabblings in cancel culture. Back in 2022, when she was arts and sciences dean at Harvard, she played a crucial role in the cancellation of economist Roland Fryer, the youngest African-American academic to ever receive tenure at Harvard. Fryer had previously drawn the ire of politically correct colleagues for his work dismantling some of their most cherished ideological shibboleths. For instance, Fryer’s research found that, when all variables are controlled for, black Americans are no more likely to be shot by police than white Americans. Coincidentally, Fryer suddenly became the target of sexual-harassment allegations.

Despite a Harvard investigation that found in Fryer’s favour, Quillette noted last year that Claudine Gay ‘reportedly went so far as to ask Harvard’s president to revoke Fryer’s tenure’. Gay’s request was denied, but Fryer was suspended without pay for two years. He was ‘stripped of his named professorship, banned from interacting with graduate students, subjected to constant Title IX surveillance, and demoted to teaching undergraduates’.

Harvard clearly has some questionable double standards. The university is quite happy to punish an unwoke professor, even after he was cleared by an investigation, seemingly due to the political bent of his research. Meanwhile, the Harvard board stands in solidarity with a president accused of plagiarism and of equivocating over anti-Semitism on her own campus. At Harvard, no person – no matter how brilliant or admirable – will be spared the wrath of woke bureaucrats if they veer from the party line. Those like Gay who do trot out the standard woke narrative are free to do as they please.

The striving upper-middle class parents of America must be in quite a tizzy right now. Many wealthy professional parents obsess – almost from the moment of conception – over how to get their progeny into the notoriously selective university. I can imagine the panicked confusion reigning in spacious kitchens across the nation, as lawyer mothers and doctor fathers re-orient themselves to this new landscape: ‘Harvard thinks plagiarism and Jew hatred are okay now, honey! What enrichment programmes and extracurricular activities teach that?’

Harvard’s disastrous recent PR may actually be turning some of its wealthy supporters away. The shocking reaction of some Harvard students to the 7 October Hamas attacks in Israel, alongside Gay’s congressional testimony, has caused a revolt among its all-important donor class. Gay has even become a personal target of billionaire alumnus Bill Ackman, who wrote to Harvard’s board to say that she ‘has done more damage to the reputation’ of the college than any other individual in its nearly 500-year history.

Maybe now the scales will start to fall from the eyes of the bien pensant liberals. Perhaps they will face up to the fact that America’s universities really are broken – and that academic excellence and merit are incompatible with wokeness. But I won’t hold my breath.

Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.

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Topics Identity Politics USA


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