What Is Plagiarism?
Peter Wood reacts to Harvard’s academic integrity scandal.
On Sunday, Christopher Brunet and I published an exposé revealing that Harvard president Claudine Gay had plagiarized multiple sections of her Ph.D. thesis, in violation of Harvard’s policies on academic integrity.
As the news circulated on social media, Washington Free Beacon reporter Aaron Sibarium followed up with an additional investigation demonstrating that Gay had plagiarized sections of three additional papers. The evidence was damning: multiple verbatim passages copied without proper citation or quotation – textbook plagiarism, in other words.
Sensing vulnerability, the Harvard Corporation responded with a statement conceding that Gay had provided “inadequate citation” in numerous papers and promising that she would request “four corrections in two articles to insert citations and quotation marks that were omitted from the original publications.” The subtext: the university admitted to serious error but would have the public believe that it did not amount to plagiarism.
This raises the obvious question: Is Harvard telling the truth? To answer this question, I reached out to Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars. The following is a lightly edited transcript of his comments:
Evidence of Claudine Gay’s plagiarism has been circulating for months in private channels and has, before now, gone unreported because reporters have shied away from the story. Those of us in the know have been looking for the media outlet that would dare to take on the doyenne of diversity in American higher education. There will be more to come to substantiate and amplify what Rufo and Brunet have uncovered.
The question, “Is Claudine Gay a Plagiarist?” demands an answer: of course she is. Using other people’s words without credit or with misleading and inappropriate forms of credit is plagiarism. The word “plagiarism” comes from the Latin word for “thief.” And that is what Rufo and Brunet have shown Gay to be. Plagiarism is bad in any context, but it is egregiously bad in the academy. The academic community depends on trust. Scholars build upon one another’s work. But if work is put forth as one’s original writing that is in fact the words and thoughts, or even the research, of someone else, it defrauds the whole academic community. Original work in the academy is the path toward gaining credentials. The Ph.D. is the primary credential for most academic appointments, and the Ph.D. dissertation is the great accomplishment that warrants that credential.