On Wednesday’s broadcast of CNN’s “The Lead,” CNN Reporter Matt Egan discussed allegations of plagiarism against Harvard President Claudine Gay and acknowledged “there are clear examples of plagiarism that occurred in the 1990s” but added that “we should note that the plagiarism allegations against Gay were first circulated by conservative activists.” And that criticisms of Harvard’s review and alleged double standards in how Gay is treated “have been fired and fueled by activists, not activists who are really concerned about academic citation methods, but right-wing activists who are trying to push out the presidents of Ivy League schools who they feel are too liberal.”
Host Jake Tapper introduced the segment by stating that Gay, along with other college presidents, gave “generally seen as disastrous testimony on Capitol Hill earlier this month…that, as well as Gay’s commitment to progressive policies, have made her many right-wing enemies who have recently raised issues about her scholarship. But, regardless of the provenance of these allegations, there is also the matter of whether or not they’re true.”
Egan then said, “Gay recently submitted corrections to two papers that she wrote as a professional academic in 2001 and 2017. However, there are clear examples of plagiarism that occurred in the 1990s, when Gay was studying for her PhD at Harvard. Now, in one example, Gay’s 1997 dissertation lifted one paragraph almost verbatim from another source without citation. That offense appears to go against Harvard’s current guide on plagiarism, [‘In academic writing, it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper.’] Harvard’s plagiarism policy says that students who submit work without clear attribution to sources will be ‘subject to disciplinary action, up to and including requirement to withdraw from the College.’ Now, the first publicly identified instance of plagiarism by Gay comes from a failure to properly cite sources in a 1993 essay. These instances of plagiarism were first reported by The Washington Free Beacon, CNN’s analysis…confirmed some of the main allegations in that reporting.”
He continued, “Now, Harvard’s top governing body said in a statement last week it became aware of plagiarism allegations against Gay in late October. An independent review found a few instances of missing citations, but no violation of Harvard’s standards. However, it’s not clear whether that review included Gay’s 1997 dissertation. Now, neither Harvard nor Gay have commented on the allegations of plagiarism from the 1990s. CNN reached out to Harvard with a list of questions, but the school declined to comment. In a previous statement, Gay said, ‘I stand by the integrity of my scholarship. Throughout my career, I have worked to ensure my scholarship adheres to the highest academic standards.’ Now, we should note that the plagiarism allegations against Gay were first circulated by conservative activists. One of those activists has also criticized Gay and Harvard’s diversity policies. And Gay’s most outspoken critic, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman, has also highlighted the plagiarism charges, and he’s argued, without evidence, that Harvard only hired Gay to fulfill diversity requirements. Now, plagiarism experts that CNN spoke to stress that this is a very complex issue. These experts were divided on whether Gay’s omissions warrant any punishment, but none of them called for her to be fired, and they noted it’s quite rare for academics to be fired for plagiarism.”
Egan added that there is criticism of the speed of Harvard’s review and criticisms that there’s a double standard.
He further stated, “I do think we should emphasize, though, that these flames have been fired and fueled by activists, not activists who are really concerned about academic citation methods, but right-wing activists who are trying to push out the presidents of Ivy League schools who they feel are too liberal. One last point here, Jake, remember, when you talk about plagiarism, it really falls into two different categories: One is copying without attribution. There’s also the more serious allegation of stealing someone else’s ideas. And in this instance, these allegations of plagiarism are really all in the former camp. So, yes, sloppy citations, but no, not idea theft.”
Tapper concluded, “The big question, I think, in the future is, how will Harvard be able to punish any students found guilty of the same offense without inviting a lawsuit? Because if she gets away with something that students can’t then get away with, that could be messy legally for the school, which I’m sure Harvard’s lawyers have thought about way before I just said that.”
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