Critics of Harvard University President Claudine Gay say there is a double standard in the university’s decision to support a president accused of plagiarism that could result in the suspension or expulsion of a student for similar offenses.
But the most blatant example of a double standard is the fact that Gay’s office launched a process five months ago to strip tenure from Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino over accusations of research misconduct involving some of Gino’s academic work. Both academics have been subjected to social media mobbing, scathing commentary that often reflects the worst instincts of people who hide behind anonymity in Internet forums. Gay has been dubbed an affirmative action hire and a hypocrite(for caring more about pronouns that Jewish students’ safety. Gino has been called a fraud and a disgrace who doesn’t deserve to be in academia.
Sure, the examples are different. Accused of plagiarism, Gay has embarrassingly gone through two rounds of corrections to what is a shockingly thin record of scholarly publication. Those corrections—after lifting phrases and whole sentences verbatim from other scholars without proper attribution—have involved nearly half of her 11 academic papers. Gay made the changes after an independent review found several examples of inadequate citations in her writings. In some cases, whole paragraphs were stolen from others’ published work. Gay’s decision to go back and correct her writing is in itself a tacit admission of wrongdoing.
Yet, Harvard’s own Honor Code clearly notes that “cheating on exams or problem sets, plagiarizing or misrepresenting the ideas or language of someone else as one’s own, falsifying data, or any other instance of academic dishonesty violates the standards of our community, as well as the standards of the wider world of learning and affairs. Students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including requirement to withdraw from the College.”
Then, there was Gay’s mediocre performance before a Congressional hearing earlier this month when she refused to characterize calls for the genocide of Jews as a breach of Harvard’s code of conduct. She ended up making a public apology for her remarks as more donors to the university pulled their funding. The response of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing board? “Our extensive deliberations affirm our confidence that President Gay is the right leader to help our community heal and to address the very serious societal issues we are facing.”
ACCUSATIONS OF INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY
Gino, on the other hand, has been accused of manipulating data in four of her more than 140 published papers. It’s a far more serious allegation, though a recent report has now raised other concerns over Gay’s PhD dissertation and a paper published in 2001. Those works maintained that Black politicians who run for office make white people less likely to vote. It has since been revealed that her conclusions in that paper had been questioned by two political science professors at Northwestern University. Michael Herron, now at Dartmouth, and Kenneth Shotts, now a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, found her analysis to be “logically inconsistent” in making a host of what they termed “implausible assumptions.” When they asked to see her dataset to see if her results could be replicated, Gay refused to share it. All of this becomes even more consequential because Gay was granted tenure at Stanford based on just four peer-reviewed political science articles, including the one whose data is now in question.
For all of the controversy over Gay, including numerous calls for her to resign, not a single disciplinary action has been taken against her. Compare that to Gino who was put on an unpaid administrative leave, with the health benefits to herself and her family taken away. She was banned from campus. Her named professorship was revoked, and she was prevented from publishing on Harvard Business School platforms. Then, on July 28th, Gay’s Office of the President notified Gino that it had begun the process of reviewing her tenure. If Harvard is successful in stripping Gino of tenure, it would be the very first time any faculty member at Harvard University has lost the lifetime protection tenure offers a faculty member.
Yet, in Gino’s case, the three-person investigation committee at HBS that ultimately found her guilty of fraud issued a report that left enough doubt to question the harsh treatment Gino received. The report, for example, noted “statements by all witnesses that they never doubted the integrity of the data in the study or studies in question. One witness who knew Professor Gino well said they never doubted her integrity in any way. In addition, several exhibits appended by Professor Gino to her Response (Exhibit 29) contained messages to her from co-authors, colleagues, and former doctoral students expressing their admiration for her research rigor and integrity. The witnesses we interviewed also said that they had no evidence that Professor Gino had ever pressured colleagues, doctoral students, post-docs, or research associates, including themselves, to produce particular results in a study, or that Professor Gino had created a negative atmosphere in her lab. Moreover, some witnesses spontaneously said that they had worked on multiple studies with Professor Gino that were never published because they didn’t work out.”
UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS SHOULD BE HELD TO HIGHER STANDARDS
Even the authors of the Data Colada blog that initially raised questions about her research included a statement in their reports that makes it less than certain that Gino bears responsibility for the inaccuracies found in the supporting data of her studies: “Although the evidence can, in most of these cases, rule out malfeasance by co-authors, it cannot definitively rule in malfeasance by Professor Gino,” they wrote. “It may be that some research assistant or otherwise unnamed person/people was/were responsible for producing these anomalies.”
The public support of Gay by the Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body, represents the height of hypocrisy given the business school’s harsh treatment of Gino. Both have been accused of intellectual dishonesty. Gino has maintained her innocence throughout, even filing a $25 million lawsuit for breach of contract, defamation, and gender discrimination against the university. Gay has not publicly proclaimed her innocence, believing it necessary to make several corrections in published work. She has yet to address the questions raised over one academic paper she authored or why she refused to share the dataset for that paper with other academics.
Anyway you cut it, this is no easy issue. Fire Gay and she sues just like Gino. Keep Gay and Gino’s counsel is going to have a field day on the stand. This is a costly lose-lose.
If anything, however, a university president should be held to an even higher standard than a student or a faculty member. Yet, at Harvard, it’s now clear that a set of standards applies differently and far more harshly to Gino than to Gay.
Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.