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VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Harvard — out the frying pan and into the fire

Harvard may assume the forced resignation of its president, Claudine Gay, has finally ended its monthlong scandal over her tenure.

Gay stepped down, remember, amid serious allegations of serial plagiarism — without refuting the charges. She proved either unable or unwilling to discipline those on her campus who were defiantly antisemitic in speech and action.

But Gay’s removal is not the end of Harvard’s dilemma. Rather, it is the beginning.

In the respective news releases from both Gay and the Harvard Corporation, racial animus was cited as a reason for her removal. Gay did not even refer to her failure to stop antisemitism on her campus or her own record of blatant plagiarism. Yet playing the race card reflects poorly on both and for a variety of reasons.

One, Gay’s meager publication record — a mere 11 articles without a single published book of her own — had somehow earned her a prior Harvard full professorship and presidency. Such a thin resume leading to academic stardom is unprecedented.

Two, the University of Pennsylvania forced the resignation of its president, Liz Magill. She sat next to Gay during that now-infamous congressional hearing in which they both claimed they were unable to discipline blatant antisemitism on their campuses. Instead, both pleaded “free speech” and “context” considerations.

Such excuses were blatantly amoral and untrue. In truth, Ivy League campuses routinely sanction, punish or remove staff, faculty or students deemed culpable for speech or behavior deemed hurtful to protected minorities — except apparently white males and Jews.

Yet Magill was immediately forced to resign and Gay was not. Also noteworthy was Magill’s far more impressive and extensive administrative experience, along with a more prestigious scholarship that was free of even a suggestion of plagiarism.

Academia’s immediate firing of a white woman while trying desperately to save the career of a less qualified and ethically challenged Black woman will be seen not as a case of racial bias but more likely of racial preference. Indeed, to keep Gay’s job and to defend her from plagiarism charges, both Harvard and Gay herself were willing to say things that were simply absurd, if not patently untrue.

Harvard invented a new phrase “duplicative language” to euphemize the reality of Gay’s intellectual theft. Even after Gay resigned, Harvard jumped the shark by further downplaying her plagiarism by dubbing it as mere “missteps.”

Harvard and its supporters further embarrassed themselves by alleging that if the victims of Gay’s plagiarism didn’t object, then why did her expropriation matter that much? Are we then to assume that plagiarism is not a serious violation of the entire ethos of scholarship, quite in addition to the aggrieved plagiarized party?

The university descended even further by suggesting that if the complaints were lodged by anonymous scholars, they were somehow less serious. Has Harvard ever heard of the reasons why whistleblowers are often protected from retribution by grants of anonymity?

Liberal Harvard, through its lawyers, even threatened the New York Post with legal action if it aired charges of Gay’s plagiarism. Yet only days later, the university was swamped by further proof of Gay’s scholarly misconduct, involving improper use of data and more plagiarism extending back even to her dissertation.

Harvard, remember, claimed that it had conducted a thorough investigation that had cleared her of actionable plagiarism — even as more charges arose of her prior culpability.

But more importantly, what happens to ex-President Gay now?

Does resigning from the Harvard presidency and returning to a full professorship mean that charges of plagiarism disappear? Would any other Harvard professors continue to be employed without addressing more than two dozen separate charges of plagiarism lodged against them?

Do Gay, the Harvard Corporation and the more than 700 Harvard professors who closed ranks and wrote a letter supporting Gay now argue that plagiarism is no longer a serious offense at the nation’s supposedly most pre-eminent university?

Will students who emulate Gay’s habit of copy-and-paste, failure-to-footnote, and misuse-of-data now be exempt from dismissal or suspension? After Gay’s embarrassing Dec. 5 congressional testimony and her resignation, what now is the Harvard policy toward antisemitism?

If next week, anti-Israel students once again call for the destruction of the Jewish people in Israel all the way “from the river to the sea,” or if they again storm Harvard’s Widener library, screaming support for the Oct. 7 massacre and intimidating Jewish students, what will the new — or old — Harvard do?

Again nothing?

Finally, Harvard insinuated that Gay was fired by racist outside pressure — despite the fact that many of her critics were large donors furious about the diminution of the reputation of their alma mater. Is Harvard suggesting that its own mega-donors are racists?

What then might come next? The resignation of the entire board of the Harvard Corporation that is the ultimate cause of Harvard’s descent into mediocrity.

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a classicist and historian at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Contact at authorvdh@gmail.com.

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