[guest post by JVW]
To no one’s surprise, the AP cobbled together and put out on the wires an utterly craptastic article Tuesday night regarding Claudine Gay’s resignation as the president of Harvard in light of her plagiarism problems. Written by two reporters on the education beat, one affiliated with the AP and the other with the Washington Post, the article was an exercise in blame-shifting, grievance-mongering, and playing to the lazy WaPo reader who desperately needs to believe that it’s only those nasty right-wingers who are stirring up trouble amidst otherwise impeccable behavior from a pioneering minority woman.
The article was released late in the evening and carried the ominous headline “Harvard president’s resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism,” as if conservatives had been the source of the plagiarism and had deviously framed Ms. Gay. That was apparently a bit too much even for the AP, because the Wednesday morning crew very subtly changed it to “Plagiarism charges downed Harvard’s president. A conservative attack helped to fan the outrage.” So I guess that they are now grudgingly acknowledging that the plagiarism is real, though clearly there is some residual bitterness that it was conservatives who brought it to the public’s attention, after the Harvard Corporation and the presidential search board apparently willfully ignored it. Happily, Twitter’s Community Notes was all over that nonsense, and the AP’s original tweet has been duly appended:
Harvard president's resignation highlights new conservative weapon against colleges: plagiarism https://t.co/GiVkT3LgUo
— The Associated Press (@AP) January 3, 2024
Of course we can’t hold the authors of the article responsible for a deceitful headline. But we can point out that they engaged in some really questionable reporting in their article. The initial late-night release, contained the following declaration:
The plagiarism allegations came not from her academic peers but her political foes, led by conservatives who sought to oust Gay and put her career under intense scrutiny in hopes of finding a fatal flaw. Her detractors charged that Gay — who has a Ph.D. in government, was a professor at Harvard and Stanford and headed Harvard’s largest division before being promoted — got the top job in large part because she is a Black woman.
Claudine Gay ascended to the Harvard presidency despite only publishing eleven academic articles (some of which appear to be derivatives of each other), an output meager enough to bring into question how she was even able to achieve tenure, first at Stanford (in 2005) and then upon accepting her appointment at Harvard. She was helped immensely by the fact that her PhD dissertation, “Taking Charge: Black Electoral Success and the Redefinition of American Politics,” was widely celebrated by the academic establishment. Its central premise that white voters tend to drop out of the political process as black voters accumulate political power was catnip to the race-conscious academic crowd. It hardly mattered that her thesis was somewhat convoluted and self-refuting and might have been predicated upon the use of a statistical method which has been roundly discredited in some academic circles. Ms. Gay has been invited by critics of her methods to provide her raw data for an independent statistical analysis. She has declined the invitation.
But having set the stage for the claim that Ms. Gay is only being hounded because of her race and gender, the authors of the AP article swoop in for the kill:
Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who helped orchestrate the effort, celebrated her departure as a win in his campaign against elite institutions of higher education. On X, formerly Twitter, he wrote “SCALPED,” as if Gay was a trophy of violence, invoking a gruesome practice taken up by white colonists who sought to eradicate Native Americans.
I don’t like the scalping metaphor (except of course the times when I very cleverly use it myself, ahem, ahem) and I wish that Mr. Rufo had avoided it, but the sentence construction that the author’s used is hilarious. Who in North America popularized this “gruesome practice taken up by white colonists”? To ask the question is to of course answer it, and once again the morning editors arrived on the scene and made a subtle and unacknowledged change to the text, appending the clause “and also used by some tribes against their enemies” at the end of the sentence.
And of course the concluding paragraphs rehash the greatest hits of conservatives’ alleged desire to strip the university of any hospitality to anyone who is not a wealthy, heterosexual, white male who probably wants to join a fraternity and go to football tailgating parties:
The campaign against Gay and other Ivy League presidents has become part of a broader right-wing effort to remake higher education, which has often been seen as a bastion of liberalism. Republican detractors have sought to gut funding for public universities, roll back tenure and banish initiatives that make colleges more welcoming to students of color, disabled students and the LGBTQ+ community. They also have aimed to limit how race and gender are discussed in classrooms.
You see, it’s just higher education wanting to make college “more welcoming” to students who rank highly on the intersectionality pyramid of grievance. And if making them feel more welcome means separating them from the pack by providing them their own academic disciplines, resource centers, dormitories, affinity clubs, and activities; if it means protecting them from exposure to views which might come into conflict with their own; if it means a coordinated campus effort to ostracize anyone who doesn’t climb aboard this bandwagon; why then, that’s a small price to pay for social progress, right?
The AP unsurprisingly fails to make a strong case that Claudine Gay’s academic misconduct was a molehill turned into a mountain by those pernicious right-wing activists. The mainstream media and higher education (along with entertainment and government bureaucracy) are merely some of the most noticeable heads of the progressive hydra. In a sane world, Christopher Rufo and the Washington Examiner would be winning prestigious awards for having exposed the insincerity and dissembling that exists in the nexus between social justice obsessives and elite universities, but of course the official story told in the parlors and drawing rooms from Cambridge to Carpenteria will be how those nasty conservatives unfairly hounded a black woman from the plummest job in the academy. The rot has set in quite deeply, and we can only hope that enough people are waking up to this fact that there is still time to save the ship.