Sybil Low by Sybil Low

The controversy surrounding Harvard President Claudine Gay, accused of plagiarism, epitomizes the growing tensions between higher education institutions and conservative critics. These developments have stirred a debate over the perceived ideological leanings of elite universities.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Conservatives are intensifying their attacks on colleges, accusing them of fostering far-left ideologies, with recent events adding to their arguments.
  2. Claudine Gay, Harvard’s president, faces plagiarism allegations, sparking a wider discussion on academic integrity and political bias in higher education.
  3. These issues have prompted legislative proposals that could significantly affect the funding and operations of prestigious universities.

The unfolding drama around Claudine Gay, Harvard’s President, has cast a spotlight on the longstanding rift between conservative politics and higher education institutions. The GOP’s critique, as USA Today reports, is rooted in a perception of colleges as hotbeds of liberal ideology. This narrative has been reinforced by the recent controversy surrounding Harvard.

A congressional hearing scrutinized how elite colleges, including Harvard, are handling issues like antisemitism. The education committee’s dissatisfaction with the responses led Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to state,

“An allegation of plagiarism by a top school official at any university would be reason for concern, but Harvard is not just any university.”

Virginia Foxx, Chairwoman

The Plagiarism Claims

Gay’s plagiarism allegations, stemming from her academic work dating back to the 1990s, have been a point of contention. Harvard spokesperson Jason Newton conveyed that an independent review found Gay’s citation errors “regrettable” but not constituting research misconduct. The House’s education committee, however, remains unconvinced, prompting its own investigation into Harvard’s academic integrity standards.

Harvard President's Plagiarism Allegations Fuel GOP's Higher Ed Critique
Image:, ‘Scholar Carol Swain, right, says Harvard President Claudine Gay plagiarized her work. (Harvard/Fox News)’

The plagiarism was found in Gay’s dissertation written in 1997 titled “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Policies”. When closely analyzed, the work does seem to contain quite a few paragraphs plagiarised nearly word-for-word from other scientific works, as Christopher F. Rufo reports. One such example is the information taken from the work “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment,” by Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam.

The original text by Bobo and Gilliam reads,

“Using 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.”

“Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment,” Lawrence Bobo and Franklin Gilliam

Gay’s version, on the other hand, while referencing the authors, mirrors this almost exactly, only making minor synonymic changes:

“Using 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 affairs.”

“Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Policies”, Claudine Gay

Even though Gay did provide the reference for the original work at the end of her doctoral paper, she didn’t use the proper quotation marks for the paragraph, despite repeating the work almost verbatim. If this was the only such case in her work, it could have been considered as a simply careless error. Unfortunately, there were a few more instances of the same nature.

For example, when Gay uses Carol Swain’s book “Black Faces, Black Interests” as a reference, she replicates the author’s distinction between “descriptive representation” and “substantive representation” the same way as was previously done with Bobo and Gilliam – with only minor alterations. Just compare:

“Pitkin 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.”

Carol Swain, “Black Faces, Black Interests”

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

“Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Policies”, Claudine Gay

Gay also repeats this error later in her paper, using the same language as Swain’s, but omitting quotation marks as mandated by Harvard’s policies on inadequate paraphrasing.

Moreover, Gay’s dissertation repeats this pattern, not only with these works but also with material from Richard Shingles, Susan Howell, and Deborah Fagan, presented nearly verbatim and without proper quotation. Her appendix to the paper was also noticed to be heavily borrowed from Gary King’s book “A Solution to the Ecological Inference Problem”. King was her dissertation advisor and she still failed to acknowledge explicitly that Appendix B is largely based on King’s concepts, thus presenting it as her original contribution.

In general, these plagiarism accusations, even though can be proven, still occur amidst a broader critique of Ivy League institutions. These schools are often viewed as elitist and ideologically biased, a sentiment exacerbated by the debate over the Israel-Hamas conflict and its repercussions on campuses.

DEI Initiatives Under Fire

Gay’s involvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at Harvard before her presidency has also attracted criticism. Her efforts, which included updating campus signage to display more diversity and leading a de-naming campaign, are now a focal point in the national conversation on DEI in higher education. This scrutiny is part of what Michigan State University professor Joshua Cowen describes as the “ecosystem of right-wing politics” interacting with education.

The Larger Battle

The ongoing controversy at Harvard reflects a broader battle over the future of higher education in America. As Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors, points out,

“The question is why the very public and breathless outrage targeting the first Black female president of Harvard, when we see little public outcry over the many individuals with no experience in higher education administration, or even in academia, being appointed to senior leadership positions with next-to-no scrutiny all over the country?”


The case involving Claudine Gay and Harvard is a microcosm of a larger debate about the role of elite educational institutions in American society. It highlights the complex interplay between education, politics, and societal values, suggesting that the outcomes of this situation could have far-reaching implications for the landscape of higher education.


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