It’s part of the annual Frankel Lecture symposium in the Houston Law Review.
Claudine Gay has resigned as president of Harvard University, though she will keep her job as a faculty member in the political science department—and her $900,000 a year salary. That’s something of an achievement, given that her misdeeds were academic in nature: Gay was caught plagiarizing numerous passages from other scholars.
But in some corners of the media, the fact she committed plagiarism matters much less than the reality that it was conservative writers who caught her. The Washington Free Beacon‘s Aaron Sibarium (a reporter at a right-leaning news website) performed the lion’s share of the digging; Christopher Brunet (a conservative writer), Christopher Rufo (a conservative writer and activist), and Phil Magness (a libertarian economic historian) also made important contributions. Astonishingly, some mainstream standards-keepers have decided that the ideologies of the accusers have essentially discredited the accusations.
Cue the Associated Press (A.P.), which posted the following, remarkable observation on X (formerly Twitter): “Harvard president’s resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism.”
Harvard president's resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism https://t.co/GiVkT3LgUo
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 3, 2024
The tweet is doubly wrong: It inadvertently suggests that plagiarism is the weapon conservatives are wielding—as if conservatives are committing plagiarism—when the so-called weapon is actually plagiarism allegations. But in either case, the framing is ludicrous. Conservatives did not invent this idea; on the contrary, many mainstream journalists have made entire careers out of digging up speeches, books, and articles written by conservatives, and checking them for plagiarism.
To take just one prominent example, consider Andrew Kaczynski, a reporter for CNN. Kaczynski is a prolific discoverer of plagiarism committed by conservatives. He exposed conservative television personality Monica Crowley, rightwing Sheriff David Clarke, and many others. Was his work ignored because it is, on some level, politically motivated? Of course not. (To his credit, Kaczynski criticized the A.P.’s framing; CNN has made worthwhile contributions to the Gay plagiarism story.)
To make things abundantly clear, the media has never chosen to ignore a plagiarism scandal or write it off as trivial or unfair, merely because the accuser has a political agenda. Plagiarism allegations derailed the 1988 presidential campaign of then Sen. Joe Biden (D–Del.), who was accused by The New York Times and others of copying elements of a speech by British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock. Biden also copied from both John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy, and “did something very stupid”—his words—in law school, when he stole five pages from a law review article and submitted them as part of a legal brief.
You would have to have been born yesterday to think that allegations of plagiarism are a new political weapon invented by conservatives.
Alas, other aspects of the media narrative surrounding Gay’s ouster are just as depressing. Multiple commentators have decided that Gay was ultimately forced out because of racism. New York Times opinion writer Mara Gay (no relation, as far as I know) said that Gay’s critics were actually attacking “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” “You can see and hear the racism,” she said on MSNBC. The Times‘ Nikole Hannah-Jones expressed similar sentiments. Rev. Al Sharpton said the departure of Gay was an attack on “every black woman.” Ibram X. Kendi, an anti-racist scholar, blamed a “racist mob.”
Is it racist to demand that the president of Harvard University be held to the same standard as other faculty members? The same standard as her students? Harvard takes plagiarism very seriously when students are concerned. As one member of Harvard College’s Honor Council wrote in an editorial for The Harvard Crimson: “There is one standard for me and my peers and another, much lower standard for our University’s president.”
Saying that Gay was ousted because she’s a black woman is insulting to hardworking scholars of all races and sexes. She was the president of the most elite educational institution in the country, and was finally held accountable for obvious and verifiable academic wrongdoing. And she’s still going to be teaching.
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