Just six months and two days into the job, Harvard president Dr. Claudine Gay stepped down. There were two causes for her resignation: first, multiple allegations of plagiarism in her scholarship; second, criticism over her handling of antisemitism on campus in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks.

Aaron Sibarium ’18, a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon and a former News Opinion editor, uncovered 50 instances of alleged plagiarism in seven of Gay’s 17 published articles, including her dissertation, primarily in her acknowledgement and literature review sections. Supporters of Gay have claimed that Sibarium, who made his name doing investigative journalism from “a conservative point of view,” was carrying out a politically-motivated hit-job. An internal Harvard investigation found “instances of inadequate citation” and “duplicative language without appropriate attribution” but concluded that Gay did not commit plagiarism. I would strongly encourage readers to look at the side-by-side comparisons between Gay’s work and the passages she allegedly lifted, which can be found in Sibarium’s piece, and decide for themselves. 

In my view, the plagiarism question is open-and-shut. One missing citation is a mistake; 50 is a pattern. If I was caught doing this, I would be expelled, and rightfully so. University presidents must be held to the same standard as students when it comes to academic honesty. If they are caught breaking the rules, then they should be sacked. 

But there’s more behind the plagiarism allegations. On Dec. 5, Gay and the presidents of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania were called to testify before Congress. Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, asked: “Calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?” Gay responded: “It can be, depending on the context.” 

Three things happened as a result. First: prominent, wealthy donors like hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman strongly condemned Gay’s words and the broader response to antisemitism on Harvard’s campus. Second: Harvard faced a 17 percent drop in early action applications. (This likely has more to do with the broader response to antisemitism than Gay’s testimony, since the latter took place a month after the early action deadline.) Third: Sibarium published his series of articles alleging plagiarism in Gay’s academic work after receiving an anonymous tip. 

Ackman is correct that there seems to be a double-standard at play here. Similarly inflammatory rhetoric applied to Black or LGBTQ+ students would not be tolerated the way it has been in this context. Elite universities issued strongly worded statements in favor of Black Lives Matter protests and against various injustices while being more measured when it comes to Israel-Palestine. 

Yes, this issue is perhaps more complicated and nuanced. But the problem with a university taking political stands on relatively non-controversial issues is that once it has shown it is willing to back a particular cause, people begin to expect a stance on other causes. The university loses the ability to say that while faculty are more than welcome to express their views, the administration will not be commenting on this matter, thank you very much. 

One last thing: Gay’s supporters argue that she has been targeted because of her race and gender. There is likely an element of truth to that. It is also not a coincidence that she was picked in the leadup to the Students for Fair Admissions decision, in which the Supreme Court ultimately ruled against Harvard and struck down the use of race-based affirmative action. Acquaintances at Harvard told me that it was an open secret at the time that the Corporation wanted the next president to be a woman of color. And there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with promoting diversity in high offices; both Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan pledged to nominate women to fill Supreme Court vacancies. 

But these promises, whether explicit or implicit, inevitably lead to accusations that someone is a diversity hire who got their position because of identity rather than merit. This is why it is imperative to make sure that people from underrepresented backgrounds don’t have skeletons in their closets — certainly not 50 of them. 

Was Sibarium’s investigation motivated purely by good faith? Probably not. But that’s no excuse for plagiarism. 

MILAN SINGH is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column, “All politics is national,” runs fortnightly. Contact him at milan.singh.@yale.edu. 

Update, Jan. 31: This article has been amended to properly attribute background sourcing.

Milan Singh is a sophomore in Pierson College. His column, "All politics is national," runs fortnightly.