Top of Mind Thursday – January 4, 2024: Above Reproach

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This week, Claudine Gay resigned her position as president of Harvard University.

Gay was one of three college presidents who, during testimony before Congress, equivocated on whether calling for the genocide of Jews would be against their school’s policies. Liz McGill, president of the University of Pennsylvania, has already resigned (as has the chairman of the Penn Board of Trustees), because of the school’s tepid response to ongoing antisemitic acts at Penn. The third president, Sally Kornbluth of MIT, remains in her role.

The Congressional testimony was damaging and Gay apologized afterwards. But she has a unique situation the other leaders aren’t facing—charges of plagiarism based on not citing primary sources for Gay’s scholarly research.

Following her resignation, Gay says she was the target of racist attacks. While I’m sure there are those who didn’t like having an African-American woman as president of Harvard, her race or gender had nothing to do with why she was pressed to leave.

Anyone can make a mistake and improperly forget to cite a source, but Gay has been accused of plagiarism more than 40 times!

Some have said what Gay did was more likely “plagiarism light” and that she shouldn’t have been harshly punished. Really? We have to wonder if a Harvard student had the exact same charges made against them, would they still be associated with the university after even the first or second incident? Most likely not.

One researcher who does feel harmed by Gay’s actions is also an African-American woman. Supposedly Gay picked up entire sentences from this woman’s work without attribution. How is that acceptable?

Earlier last year, Marc Tessier-Lavigne resigned as president of Stanford after allegations arose of falsified data in his research. It was determined that Tessier-Lavigne wasn’t involved in the falsification but hadn’t properly supervised those who should have been on top of the situation. So he had to go.

Gay, McGill, and Tessier-Lavigne were pushed out because their behavior was not what was expected from leaders of elite educational institutions. The head of a university is an exemplar for the student population. Let’s hope other schools copy the correct behavior moving forward.

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