Plagiarism dubbed 'new conservative weapon' after Harvard president resigns

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‘New weapon to use against criminals: Their crimes’: Why conservatives are laughing at claims they’ve ‘weaponized’ plagiarism

Harvard President Claudine Gay stepped down following weeks of controversy.


Katherine Huggins


Posted on Jan 4, 2024

Former Harvard University President Claudine Gay resigned from her position on Tuesday, the culmination of weeks of controversy that began with criticism over her handling of antisemitism on campus and ended over allegations of plagiarism.

Gay’s resignation was seen as a win by critics who were outraged by her congressional testimony about combatting on-campus antisemitism in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel, but she also became more broadly a pariah to conservatives who were advocating against “woke” policies in universities like diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

Another ex-university president, Liz Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, stepped down amid criticism of her remarks before Congress. But in Gay’s case—though her testimony was equally under fire—it was allegations of plagiarism in her 1997 Ph.D. thesis that was the factor ultimately leading to her resignation.

In an op-ed for the New York Times on Wednesday, Gay admitted she should have more forcefully condemned Hamas but denied plagiarizing, chalking it up to “citation errors.”

“My critics found instances in my academic writings where some material duplicated other scholars’ language, without proper attribution,” she wrote. “I believe all scholars deserve full and appropriate credit for their work. When I learned of these errors, I promptly requested corrections from the journals in which the flagged articles were published, consistent with how I have seen similar faculty cases handled at Harvard.”

In the wake of Gay’s resignation, plagiarism was jokingly dubbed a new “weapon” for conservatives.

One X user posted a joking image of an assault rifle with a possible modification listed as plagiarism.

The meme came in response to an Associated Press headline that was widely criticized. “Harvard president’s resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism,” the headline—which has since been changed on the AP’s website—read.

According to the article in question, Harvard found multiple shortcomings in Gay’s academic citations including “duplicative language” but concluded that Gay’s errors were “not considered intentional or reckless.”

“This headline is something. Plagiarism is actually bad. It’s not a ‘conservative weapon,'” wrote Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio).

“District Attorneys have a new weapon to use against criminals: Their crimes,” joked another user.

Donald Trump Jr. responded to the assertion that plagiarism is a now a weapon as well, writing: “No matter how much disdain you have for the media it’s not enough… but at least they’re proving that everything we have said about them for the past decade is spot on.”

Another X user commented, asking: “How many conservatives did it take to force Claudine Gay to plagiarize 50 times? Was it more than 100,000? What specific weapons were used? Writing my thesis on this.”

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)’s communications director weighed in too, writing: “And we would’ve gotten away with it too! If it hadn’t been for those darned conservatives and their… *checks notes* pointing out that our top academic university president plagiarized.”

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*First Published: Jan 4, 2024, 10:09 am CST