Harvard University has provided insight into how it conducted a plagiarism review of its former president and defended its actions in an eight-page summary submitted to Congress on Friday.
Ultimately, the university determined that former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s “conduct was not reckless nor intentional,” and did not rise to the level of “research misconduct.” The summary aimed to show Congress the “rigor” of Harvard’s review.
In addressing the claims of plagiarism made against Gay, the school told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that the “allegations arose in a time of unprecedented events and tension on campus and globally.”
“We worked to address relevant questions in a timely, fair, and diligent manner. We understand and acknowledge that many viewed our efforts as insufficiently transparent, raising questions regarding our process and standard of review,” the school added.
Gay, who resigned earlier this month after taking on the role as president of the university last July, was accused last October of plagiarizing several passages in published academic articles stretching back to the 1990s. Following the initial claims, other allegations of plagiarism were made against Gay in subsequent weeks.
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Gay’s resignation, which was documented in a January 2 letter to members of the Harvard community, came amid a flurry of criticism for how she handled concerns about antisemitism on Harvard’s campus.
The university’s summary detailing its review process came after the House Education and the Workforce committee — the same committee Gay testified before in December — launched an investigation last month into how the school was addressing concerns of antisemitism, as well as how it was handling the allegations of plagiarism against Gay.
Led by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the House committee sent a four-page letter to Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker demanding that the school produce internal documents on allegations of Gay’s plagiarism, disciplinary actions taken against students at the school accused of plagiarism and communications with the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).
In the documents submitted Friday, Harvard noted that it had first begun to review allegations of plagiarism against Gay after the school was contacted by a reporter with the New York Post on October 24. The Post, according to the university, provided Harvard with 25 allegations of plagiarism.
“The university promptly began to assess the allegations and, through counsel, requested additional time from the Post’s legal counsel to review these allegations,” the school wrote. “In the course of the next several days, Harvard reviewed and analyzed the relevant excerpts. It also preliminarily assessed how the allegations would likely be considered under the research misconduct standard and reached out to several authors of the works at issue to solicit their reactions, none of whom objected to then-President Gay’s language.”
On October 29, five days after the school received word about the initial claims of plagiarism, the Harvard Corporation, the school’s governing board, voted unanimously to initiate a review of the questionable works. Gay requested an independent review the same day, according to the school.
“In order to avoid a real or perceived conflict, it determined that the review should be conducted by individuals who did not ultimately report to then-President Gay,” the school wrote.
But the law firm representing Harvard sent a threatening letter to the Post in late October, which dismissed the accusations of plagiarism as “demonstrably false” and stated that her work was “cited and properly credited.”
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Four members of the Harvard Corporation — the former presidents of Princeton University and Amherst College, a former California Supreme Court justice and Stanford University faculty member and a partner at the Paul Weiss law firm — were tasked with conducting the review as a subcommittee.
Although the subcommittee reviewing Gay’s work delved deeper into her past articles, the research misconduct policy for Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences typically limits reviews to articles published or cited by the author within the past six years.
On November 3, the school said that the subcommittee had “appointed three of the country’s most prominent political scientists” to an independent panel to review three of Gay’s allegedly plagiarized works, as well as Harvard’s policy regarding academic misconduct. Though the identities of those individuals were not disclosed, the school said the members of the independent panel included “tenured faculty members at prominent research institutions across the country, fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and two . . . former presidents of the American Political Science Association.”
A two-page memo sent from the independent panel to the subcommittee on November 16 stated that there was “no doubt” that the articles by Gay “are both sophisticated and original,” and that there was “virtually no evidence of intentional claiming of findings that are not President Gay’s.” The independent panel did, however, note that Gay had fallen short when it came to adequate citations.
“The Independent Panel identified nine of the 25 allegations presented by the Post as allegations ‘of principal concern,’ which ‘paraphrased or reproduced the language of others without quotation marks and without sufficient and clear crediting of sources,’ failing ‘[o]n occasion’ to ‘provide citations according to the highest established scientific practice,’” the school wrote.
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During a November 20 meeting, members of the independent panel recommended that the subcommittee conduct what the school referred to as a “broader review” of Gay’s work. That review involved the use of a software program to locate passages that had “potentially duplicative language,” according to the school.
“The Subcommittee concluded that, although many of the allegations were meritless, there were instances that did not adhere to the College Guide. The Subcommittee determined that two articles required corrections,” the school told Congress. “One of the required corrections the Subcommittee identified related to an article not reviewed by the Independent Panel. While it required corrections, the Subcommittee determined that then-President Gay’s conduct was not reckless nor intentional and, therefore, did not constitute research misconduct as defined by the FAS Research Misconduct Policy.”
Harvard also noted that it had been made aware of additional plagiarism allegations, which included charges against Gay’s dissertation, through social media on December 10. However, the subcommittee had not included her dissertation in its initial review. Two days later, on December 12, the subcommittee released a statement in support of Gay and made reference to the corrections she had agreed to make. The board again backed her on December 21 and detailed additional corrections, including ones to her dissertation.
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Harvard made clear in the Friday summary of its review that the Harvard Corporation would not be involved in handling further allegations of misconduct against Gay, because she is no longer president.
Following her resignation, Gay returned to the Harvard faculty. Issues that arise with faculty are typically reviewed by a university committee, which reports to the university president.