Harvard plagiarism allegations intensify GOP focus on higher education

Conservatives in Congress and around the country are intensifying their attacks on colleges and universities, which they have long characterized as breeding grounds for far-left ideology.

A disastrous congressional hearing earlier this month focused on how several elite colleges are addressing antisemitism on campus. The college presidents’ rehearsed responses provided the perfect opportunity to unleash conservative rage against higher education, a sentiment shared by an increasing number of Republicans. 

Colleges and universities have been a target of the right for years. Recently, fueled by the high-profile resignation of an Ivy League president after calls for her removal, conservatives are capitalizing on a newfound momentum. They have introduced legislation that threatens to eliminate federal student loans for the wealthiest schools and impose substantial taxes on their endowments. 

Many academics, already burdened by disruptive protests and concerns about free speech since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, argue that these attacks are the latest episode in a larger conservative-led assault on higher education, particularly targeting Ivy League schools, which are unpopular among many Americans.

The latest target is Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, who now faces allegations of plagiarism throughout her lengthy academic career. 

Currently, the university is standing by Gay. According to spokesperson Jason Newton, an initial independent review determined that her “inadequate citations, while regrettable, did not constitute research misconduct.” 

However, the review did little to satisfy the GOP-led education committee in the House of Representatives. They announced on Wednesday that they would investigate plagiarism and academic integrity standards at Harvard, citing their authority to oversee higher education programs. This investigation is in addition to their ongoing inquiry into the school’s handling of antisemitism on campus.

“An allegation of plagiarism by a top school official at any university would be reason for concern, but Harvard is not just any university,” wrote Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., in a letter issued on Wednesday. “It styles itself as one of the top educational institutions in the country.”

Israel-Hamas war: Free-speech battles ignited at college campuses nationwide

Joshua Cowen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, sees the ordeal as indicative of how the “ecosystem of right-wing politics” intersects with education. 

“You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see this for what it is,” he said. “These are professional political communicators.” 

Claudine Gay and plagiarism: What transpired

Allegations of plagiarism in some of Gay’s work emerged well before her congressional testimony on Dec. 5. 

Harvard spokesperson Jason Newton stated that on Oct. 24, a reporter from the conservative-leaning New York Post contacted the university to comment on a story claiming she had plagiarized sections of academic articles dating back to the 1990s. A few days later, Gay requested an independent review by the university’s governing board, according to Newton. The review found

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