by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Before she became the shortest-serving president in Harvard’s history, Claudine Gay watered down the school’s policy on research misconduct, making it more difficult to sanction faculty members for plagiarism—and greenlighting the very rules the school invoked in a last-ditch effort to save her job.
The new policy, which Gay approved in 2019 as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, redefined research misconduct to exclude accidental infractions. Professors, it said, could be sanctioned only if they plagiarized “knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly.” It is precisely that clause that the Harvard Corporation leaned on as it sought to exonerate Gay from mounting allegations of plagiarism, which ultimately claimed her job.
In mid-December, when the board issued a statement indicating its unanimous support for Gay, the members said that an “independent review” of her work found several cases of “inadequate citation” but no research misconduct, since her transgressions were not “intentional or reckless.” She has nonetheless requested corrections to three articles, including her dissertation.
Gay, who remains a tenured faculty member making $900,000 a year, resigned as president last week after she was hit with nearly 50 allegations of plagiarism spanning half of her published work. Neither Gay nor Harvard have conceded that she plagiarized or responded to requests for comment.
The Washington Free Beacon contacted Harvard about the 2019 policy change on December 27, the same day Gay privately agreed to resign, according to the New York Times.
The policy change, which has not been previously reported, adds a new twist to the scandal that ended Gay’s presidency and has amplified calls for the resignation of Penny Pritzker—the head of the Harvard Corporation who led the search for Gay—as the school continues to face blowback for its handling of the plagiarism charges.