Argue Honesty in the Claudine Gay Affair
I think Harvard should fire Claudine Gay. But not for the reasons her critics are emphasizing, including Congressional testimony, public statements after October 7, and charges of plagiarism. Come on now, you don’t really think she’s a wonderful president doing a fantastic job, and it’s too bad we have to fire her over copied and pasted sentences in her thesis.
The larger goal is to reform the university. Being honest about the reasons for firing her matters to that goal.
Harvard faces a historic choice: Is its main mission advocacy for, advancement of, and indoctrination in a particular political and ideological cause, going by names such as “woke,” “social justice” “critical theory” and “diversity equity and inclusion” (a chillingly Orwellian name since it is exactly the opposite)? Or is its main mission the search for objective truth, via excellence, meritocracy, free inquiry, free speech, and critical discussion, bounded by classical norms of argument by logic and evidence; and to advance and pass on that way of thinking? Even though yes, most of those ideas originated from dead white men whose societies had, in retrospect, some unpleasant characteristics? And to get there, given the BS spreading like cancer and the political and ideological monoculture that pervades the university, it needs a top to bottom cleanup.
This is a key moment. After October 7, a lot of the larger community of alumni, donors, trustees, parents, government and employers, woke up. What, “decolonization” means kill the Jews? Who knew? Well you would have if you had been paying attention, one is tempted to answer, but ok, you had lives to lead and the Orwellian doublespeak is seductive if you’re not paying much attention. They then look a little harder and suddenly see the politicized rot that has taken over the whole university. Now is the chance to force a change.
Only a more honest firing will cure Harvard and her cousins. Forcing Harvard to get rid of her, ostensibly for failings that though real are also clearly a pretext, will not force Harvard to look hard in the mirror and make the choice I and Harvard’s critics want.
Gay is exactly what Harvard wanted, and a look-alike is exactly what it will get unless it wants something different.
Why do I think Gay should go? Because she persecuted Roland Fryer, the brilliant Black economist who inconveniently found the “wrong” results in a classic study of race and policing. (Another great Fryer summary here.) Because she fired Ronald Sullivan, also incidentally Black, who had the temerity to provide legal counsel to Harvey Weinstein, from his faculty dean position. The great defender of free speech and academic freedom before Congress found that the mere act of having provided Weinstein legal counsel made students feel “unsafe.” She forced Carole Hooven to resign, for teaching that sex is “binary and biological” in a biology class. She led efforts to expand “teaching in the broad domain of ethnicity, indigeneity, and migration.” (Two Blacks and a woman. If you hadn’t figured it out, this is about politics, not race). I haven’t followed the Ryan Enos (white man, but left wing research) affair carefully, but the charge that she quickly covered it up is out there. Harvard’s announcement of her appointment trumpeted that “She is the founding chair of Harvard’s Inequality in America Initiative” and similar efforts. Harvard is dead last in FIRE’s ranking of free speech and academic freedom.
But all this happened before she became president. Harvard knew exactly what it was getting, and wanted it.
Gay’s academic record, including allegations of plagiarism and quantitative mistakes, was widely discussed long before she became president, as the WSJ documents. That “Harvard said it first learned about allegations of plagiarism against Gay in October” is unserious. Yes, the allegations were aired on anonymous message boards that also included distasteful posts. But in a full year search process, did nobody even think to google “Claudine Gay,” read the results, and then make up their own minds? You don’t have to take EJMRs word for it, you can do a little work. It’s either extreme laziness, or again, Harvard knew exactly what it was getting.
And even then, the allegation of plagiarism is mostly that she copied and pasted literature reviews. The allegation of fudging numbers is more serious. But why not talk about the real question: is this work any good anyway? Or, who cares? You don’t have to be a great academic to be a great administrator.
Nellie Bowles is as usual hilariously on point
I still think Claudine Gay is too big to fail. She is a symbol. And the perfect one for a once-great American institution running on prestige fumes and foreign dollars. Of course her papers are flawed and plagiarized. …Claudine herself has played a major role in smearing several truly great black academics throughout her career. No, the statement Claudine Gay as president of Harvard makes is that politics matter more than anything else….mediocrity, so long as it’s wedded to ideology, is enough. We’ll even call mediocrity genius and give it the most prestigious academic job in the land, so long as you say just the right things about this list of issues. In conclusion, Claudine Gay is the perfect president of Harvard.
Harvard selected her and hired her for the former job. She is eminently qualified for that job, and was doing it well. Forced to get rid of her on a pretext, they’ll just pick someone similar.
By way of example, Stanford recently unseated its president, ostensibly over research conduct in his pre-presidential career. He was cleared by the official investigation, but ousted nonetheless. As with Gay, I sense that his enemies really didn't care a whit about just how photoshopped photographs appeared in 20 year old articles. A lot of Stanford didn’t like him because he wasn’t left-wing enough. Stanford has plenty of academic freedom horror stories, from censuring Scott Atlas and Jay Bhattacharya for actually following science on covid policy, to the Internet Observatory, specifically named in the Missouri v. Biden decision for politicized internet censorship, a DEI office every bit as pernicious as the one Harvard just scrubbed from its website, the Stanford Hates Fun outbreak and more. We were very lucky that our new interim president had only been in office a few months when Congress called and couldn’t be dragged in for interrogation! Stanford faces the same historic choice, left-wing politics vs. excellence, ideological and political diversity, freedom, and meritocracy.
The trustees appointed a 20-person presidential search committee September 14 to find his replacement. “The committee includes faculty members, undergraduate and graduate students, a postdoctoral scholar, staff, and trustees, who will seek community input…” Time on hands seems to be a precondition. The faculty co-chair lists her first affiliation as “Senior Associate Dean, Faculty Development and Diversity.” The staff representative is the “Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access & Community.” Don’t hold your breath that this process will yield the clear choice and mandate to clean up the mess that you’re hoping for.
Gay was excoriated for her Congressional Testimony. The full text of the congressional testimony is revealing. The media soundbite seemed terrible:
ELISE STEFANIK: … Dr. Gay, at Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard’s rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?
CLAUDINE GAY: It can be. Depending on the context….Targeted as an individual, targeted as — at an individual, severe, pervasive….Anti-Semitic rhetoric, when it crosses into conduct, that amounts to bullying, harassment, intimidation. That is actionable conduct, and we do take action.
ELISE STEFANIK: So, the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?
CLAUDINE GAY: Again, it depends on the context.
Earlier, she gave a nice speech about free speech on campus:
The free exchange of ideas is the foundation upon which Harvard is built, and safety and well-being are the prerequisites for engagement in our community. Without both of these things, our teaching and research mission founder. …
We have reiterated that speech that incites violence threatens safety or violates Harvard’s policies against bullying and harassment is unacceptable. We have made it clear that any behaviors that disrupt our teaching and research efforts will not be tolerated, and where these lines have been crossed, we have taken action.
I was, initially, a bit sympathetic. Gay was, technically, right. The written code of conduct, and other policies, do pretty much say that 1st Amendment freedom of speech applies on college campuses. The policies do state that you can say anything, even the most heinous, so long as it does not cross to action.
Nellie Bowles explains political theater:
like when Republicans asked college presidents whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate the student code of conduct. That’s called a gimme. You make a sad face and say: “Yes.” It doesn’t matter what the student handbook actually says. No one cares. You say genocide is so sad, so bad.
Now one can be critical, as many were, that the job of university president is not to repeat lawyered up HR boilerplate, make sure you don’t say anything that can get the university sued; university presidents should know to make clear statements and know how to play the gotcha game in Congress. But again, Harvard (and Penn, and MIT) knew exactly what it was getting, and reportedly prepped Gay well for the former, not the latter task.
But this isn’t about free speech.
“Speech” had already turned in to “conduct” well before the hearing. Harassment of Jews — Jews, not just pro-Israel protesters — was already routine on campus. Interruptions of classes and occupation of library and other spaces was already going on. And Harvard and the others didn’t do anything about it — though you can be sure if similar opinions were being expressed by men in white sheets the reaction would have been swift and brutal.
The hypocrisy is evident. Oh now you’re for free speech and academic freedom, yet not for the tiny micro aggressions that had earned disciplinary responses before.
The issue is, how in the world did Harvard university end up accepting, hiring, and promoting, so many people who, given the opportunity to speak freely, do so in defense of murder, rape, and terrorism? How did Harvard become such a monoculture of far left-wing politics?
And, it turns out in the full record, the Congresspeople got all that. Selective free speech:
TIM WALBERG:…It seems that, perhaps, Harvard’s commitment to free speech is pretty selective. …
Tyler J. Van der Wiel was deemed guilty for those crimes, related to his views on marriage and abortion. And then, …Carroll Hooven, an evolutionary biologist, was forced to resign, because she stated that a person’s sex is biological and binary. …
And so, President Gay, in what world is a call for violence against Jews protected speech, but a belief that sex is biological and binary isn’t?
CLAUDINE GAY: Thank you for your question. So from the moment that our students arrive on campus, whether it is to begin their Harvard journey as an undergraduate, or at one of the professional schools, the message to them is clear — that we are an inclusive community but one deeply committed to free expression. And that means that we have expectations that that right is exercised mindfully and with empathy towards others.
We reinforce that during their time at Harvard, by helping them build the skills that allow them to engage in constructive dialogue, even on the most complex and divisive issues. Because what we seek is not simply free expression, but the reasoned dialogue that leads to truth and discovery and that does the work of moving us all forward…
TIM WALBERG: But you are professors — — and when they transgress, they’re held accountable. — come under that, as well, don’t they? Your professors come under that as well, don’t they?
CLAUDINE GAY: Absolutely.
TIM WALBERG: And so, for Professor Van der Weil and Hooven, that didn’t work for them — the free expression of views, at the very least views, whether fact or truth, I guess we’ll leave that to understanding. But nonetheless, they were removed from their positions…
It turns out President Gay is superb at not answering questions and going off on a rant of boilerplate.
JOE WILSON: …What is the percentage of conservative professors at your institutions? …
CLAUDINE GAY: Thank you, Congressman. So, I can’t provide you that statistic because it’s not data that we collect. ..
LIZ MAGILL: Representative, I strongly believe in a wide variety of perspectives. We do not track that information, so I can’t give that to you.
SALLY KORNBLUTH: We do not document people’s political views, but conservatives are welcome to teach on our campus.
JOE WILSON: And I think this is so sadly and shamefully revealing that there is no diversity and inclusion of intellectual thought…. And you might look into that when you get your next government grant.
Again, beautiful lawyerly obfuscation. Because numbers are easily available. For example, voter registration data, which shows astounding democrat/republican ratios on campus. And the huge DEI bureaucracy, which collects detailed data on refined racial, ethnic, sexual, and gender identities, has plenty of time on its hands, could easily collect data on political identity. “Why not?” would be a good question!
Stanford’s DEI (“IDEAL”) website statement on the value of diversity, proclaims
At Stanford, we strive to ensure that a diversity of cultures, races and ethnicities, genders, political and religious beliefs, physical and learning differences, sexual orientations and identities is thriving on our campus.
Nice. But outside this statement, zero effort to even measure the size of the donkey in the room. (The elephant got canceled.)
“And you might look into that when you get your next government grant” is a fascinating comment. Right now many granting agencies are requiring diversity statements, diversity programs, some even acknowledging “native ways of knowing,” as part of an “all of government” effort. That could change with the next election. Or with a congressional committee that hauls in heads of agencies to answer the same sorts of questions.
The next exchange also focuses on the political monoculture issue,
GLENN GROTHMAN: …I’m going to follow up on some of the things Mr. Wilson had to say. … in 2016, they found about 2 percent of the faculty of Harvard … viewed President Trump, I think, is Ok or good. And I think in the 2020 election, the Crimson, your local paper there, found 1 percent of the students voting for Donald Trump, which given that nationwide, it is about 50, 50 was kind of shocking.
Does it concern you at all, that you apparently have a great deal, a lack of ideological diversity at Harvard? And you think that atmosphere is maybe one of the reasons why there seems to be such an outbreak of anti-Semitism at your institution?…what are you — what are you going to do about it? Do you think it’s a concern?
CLAUDINE GAY: We … strive to have as diverse a faculty as… we can, because we want to make sure that we are sampling from the broadest pool of talent available in the world. That’s how we ensure academic excellence. And then —
GLENN GROTHMAN: Wait, wait, wait, wait. ……2 percent of your faculty viewed Donald Trump as something [inaudible] poor. In 2016, and after four years of working for diversity, 1 percent voted for him. Now I know all sorts of good people who don’t like President Trump. But I’m just saying, when you compare the way people think at your campus, compared to America as a whole, if there’s one thing you are — it’s not diverse. Right? Do you consider that a problem…?
CLAUDINE GAY: So, Congressman, I can’t speak to the specific data that you are referring to. What I can say is, that at Harvard, we try to create as much space as possible for a wide range of views and perspectives, because we believe that allows for a thriving academic community.
GLENN GROTHMAN: Well, how in the world is that even possible, and that that you’re trying to do that? Do you really feel that you’re — that your faculty are ideologically diverse? You came out of a, what was it a, political science background at Stanford?…
CLAUDINE GAY: So here’s what I can say on the topic that you’re exploring. And it’s — we want the most brilliant, talented faculty to come to Harvard and to build their careers there. And then —
This is a brilliant lesson in obfuscation. Note to self if ever testifying before a hostile committee. Just lie. Over and over bigger and bigger. “ I can’t speak to the specific data that you are referring to.” Of course you can. You’re a quantitative political scientist who reads the newspapers. “We want the most brilliant, talented faculty to come to Harvard and to build their careers there.” “We try to create as much space as possible for a wide range of views and perspectives.” Ha!
Gay is great at doing exactly what Harvard wants! Pursue the far left purification agenda, but lawyer and HR up when asked in plain English to account for it. She should be promoted for this effort! But no, Harvard should fire her because the cause is rotten, not the execution. Grothman noticed:
GLENN GROTHMAN: Ok, …you’re not going to answer the question, and they only give me five minutes.
It turns out he knows about “diversity statements” the new tool used to make sure faculty have the right politics:
Is it common at Harvard to ask faculty to submit a diversity statement?
CLAUDINE GAY: That’s a practice that varies across schools at Harvard.…
GLENN GROTHMAN: Ok. Could a scientist ever get cut from consideration for from a job, because they had the wrong view of diversity?
CLAUDINE GAY: What I would say, is that we aim to draw to our faculty, the broadest pool of talent.
GLENN GROTHMAN: …when you hear that 1 percent of your faculty voted for a presidential candidate who got about 50 percent of the vote, nationwide, does that concern you, or do you feel you’re not as diverse as you should be?
CLAUDINE GAY: What I’m focused on, is making sure that we’re bringing the most academically talented faculty to our campus and that they are effective in the classroom.
GLENN GROTHMAN:… Has Harvard ever made a faculty job contingent on a strong diversity statement?
CLAUDINE GAY: We look at everything a faculty member will bring to our campus — academic brilliance and excitement and ability to teach a campus community and student community that is diverse —
I quote at length because the merry go round of refusing to answer the question and repeatedly asserting a false boilerplate about recruiting is so brilliantly executed.
Enough. Yes, Gay must go. But don’t let them say so sorry, you copied and pasted an abstract during the literature review in your thesis, and you fudged some numbers, you were wonderful but we have to let you go for these little transgressions. Don’t let them paper over the murderous anti-semitism and continue the march thorough the institution. Don’t let them continue to undermine the foundations of our best universities, ripping out meritocracy, exams, actual competence, academic freedom, and pursuit of truth. Fire her for doing her job well, but we want someone to do a different job!
Yes, I know this is unrealistic, and not how political decisions are made. Still, the larger point remains. Firing Gay over plagiarism and data fudging, and sending Stanford’s 20 person committee to put in a replacement will not bring about the change we need.
A correspondent writes to object to my characterization of the Sullivan and Fryer stories, suggesting that less well known facts merited some sanction. Perhaps. But undeniably Harvard in general and Gay in particular left a strong impression that left-wing politics played a role. When students started complaining about feeling “unsafe” because Sullivan provided Weinstein with a legal defense, they could have told students to grow up and handled any other issues separately. When sanctioning a star professor whose research findings directly challenge the Dean’s and the campus orthodoxy, an institution that wants to preserve a reputation for neutrality will go out of its way to act neutrally, and especially in comparison to similar cases from more conforming researchers. The institutional reputation is the issue, and not just right-wing nut-jobs viewed these cases as politically motivated.
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