After weeks of tumult at Harvard over the university’s response to the Israel-Hamas war and the leadership of its president, Claudine Gay, there was no shortage of interest in a faculty forum with Dr. Gay this week.
In a town hall held over Zoom on Tuesday with several hundred members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Gay focused on how to bridge the deep divides that had emerged on campus as a result of the war, according to two people who attended and asked for confidentiality because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Faculty members who spoke up in the meeting were largely positive, and there were no questions about Dr. Gay’s academic record after public allegations of plagiarism. The matter wasn’t even raised, one professor said.
But by Thursday, new questions surrounding Dr. Gay’s scholarship had shifted to the forefront, after the university said late Wednesday that it had identified two more instances of what it called “duplicative language without appropriate attribution,” from her 1997 doctoral dissertation.
The examples were part of a wave of plagiarism allegations that had surfaced against Dr. Gay over the past two weeks, driven by conservative activists and news outlets, just as she was under fire for failing to take a tougher stand against antisemitism during a tense congressional hearing convened by House Republicans this month.
The latest round of allegations have given strength to Dr. Gay’s critics and strained her supporters, while leaving some students and faculty members perplexed just as the campus empties for winter break.
“As a Harvard student, the whole scandal from beginning to end has been pretty embarrassing,” Daniel Vega, a Harvard senior, said on Thursday. “I just think it’s a bit of a rough look for us.”
Mr. Vega, a classics and philosophy major in the midst of writing his thesis, said that he and his classmates had been closely watching the accusations of plagiarism against Dr. Gay, as well as the handling of antisemitism. Still, he said, it did not escape him that the accusations were being pressed by right-wing agitators.
The latest developments also raise questions about the Harvard Corporation, the insular governing board that hired Dr. Gay — a professor of government and African and African American studies, former dean and the first Black president of the university — after a relatively fast search last year. The board had just days ago cleared Dr. Gay of “research misconduct.”
Harvard’s board first addressed allegations against Dr. Gay on Dec. 12. At the time, the board said that an investigation by independent scholars, started in response to anonymous allegations received in late October, had found “a few instances of inadequate citation” in her published work. Those instances, the board said, did not rise to the level of “research misconduct.” Dr. Gay would request four corrections in two articles, the board said.
Then on Wednesday, the university said the panel had also looked at her 1997 dissertation, which had not been part of the original review, and found two additional instances of “duplicative language without appropriate attribution.” Those instances also did not amount to “research misconduct,” the university said, but would be corrected in an update to Dr. Gay’s dissertation.
Asked on Thursday whether the Harvard Corporation still stood by Dr. Gay, a spokesman for the university referred back to the Dec. 12 statement of unanimous support. Dr. Gay declined to be interviewed.
The plagiarism allegations against Dr. Gay, which span her dissertation and about half of the 11 journal articles listed on her résumé, range from brief snippets of technical definitions to lightly paraphrased summaries of other scholars’ work without quotation marks or direct citation. In one example that drew ridicule, Dr. Gay appeared to borrow exact phrases from the acknowledgments section of another author’s book to thank her mentor and family in the acknowledgments section of her own dissertation.
She has not been accused of more egregious violations, such as falsifying data, or stealing another scholar’s original research or ideas.
Still, the steady dribble of allegations has privately worried some faculty members who see a pattern of sloppiness unbecoming of a Harvard leader. And some have begun to speak out more forcefully, questioning whether Dr. Gay can effectively carry out presidential duties, including raising money from the widest possible groups of donors.
“You have to be practical, not ideological,” Avi Loeb, a professor of science who was critical of Dr. Gay’s earlier congressional testimony, said on Thursday. “If she cannot accomplish the goals she needs to pursue as a university president, then it’s obvious what needs to be done.”
Some major donors continue to be agitated. The billionaire Ukrainian-born magnate Len Blavatnik, whose name adorns an institute at Harvard’s medical school, in recent weeks decided to suspend giving more because of his unhappiness over the school’s response to antisemitic incidents on campus, a spokeswoman said. Mr. Blavatnik’s family, which has given more than $200 million, will not restart donating “until antisemitism at Harvard is addressed with real action,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.
Mr. Blavatnik’s decision was reported earlier by Bloomberg.
In a note to colleagues that he shared with The New York Times, Eugene I. Shakhnovich, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology, wrote that Dr. Gay remaining as president was “unsustainable for Harvard.”
“Claudine Gay is a huge liability for Harvard and by implication for higher education in the U.S.,” he wrote. “Her presidency is a huge Christmas present” to the right.
Yet there remained debate on campus about whether the allegations against Dr. Gay were serious enough to warrant further action.
Randall Kennedy, a Harvard legal scholar, said on Thursday that his support for Dr. Gay was “unmoved.”
The allegations against her, he said, had been brought to light by “professional vilifiers.” He urged the university to “clarify the idea of plagiarism and distinguish between various levels of culpability.”
He also suggested that Harvard leadership might decline to cooperate further with a congressional investigation into the university, distinguishing between “bona fide inquiries” and “bad faith efforts to harass, embarrass and intimidate.”
To meet Harvard’s standard of “research misconduct,” which can lead to harsh sanctions, the infractions must be done “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly,” according to the regulations of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Daniel Swinton, a former assistant dean for academic integrity at Vanderbilt University who is now a college consultant and expert witness, emphasized that intention mattered. “I haven’t read anything that said she stole someone’s idea, passed it off as completely her own,” he said.
The allegation that Dr. Gay has copied phrases in her dissertation acknowledgments from another author’s acknowledgments struck him as “cringey.” But acknowledgments, he said, are “the Hallmark card of academia,” and stock language is standard.
While the president of a university might be held to a higher standard than a student, “as to whether we should expect perfection from them, the answer is no,” Mr. Swinton said.
The Harvard campus, for weeks the scene of raucous protests, was cold and quiet on Thursday, as final exams wrapped up and winter break began. Only a handful of tourists wandered the still grounds.
Rémy Furrer, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School, said he thought Dr. Gay was “taking accountability, to a certain extent, by requesting some modifications to her published research.” But, he said, “it’s important that the academic standards are equally applied across faculty, president and students alike.”
Spencer Glassman, a Harvard senior, said he could not say whether Dr. Gay had crossed a line. But he understood the need to closely examine the plagiarism charges.
“It sets a standard of seriousness for the university,” he said. “The president should be sort of unimpeachable.”
Rob Copeland, Kitty Bennett, Anna Betts, Matthew Eadie and Cici Yongshi Yu contributed reporting.