Skip to content

The Real Problem with Plagiarism

Students who profess to care about justice but not about the truth will end up with neither.

· 8 min read
Harvard University President Claudine Gay at Harvard University commencement ceremonies
Harvard University President Claudine Gay at Harvard University commencement ceremonies in Harvard Yard, May 25, 2023 Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. Alamy

Harvard president Claudine Gay stepped down from her post in January over allegations of serial plagiarism. Gay’s critics allege that she had been a “diversity hire”—that is to say, Harvard had not hired Gay for her distinguished academic resume, but because she would be the first black president of Harvard. Since then, a number of other high-profile Harvard academics have been accused of plagiarism as well. One of the accused is even a psychologist who researches dishonesty.

This scandal has reinforced the perception that academia is increasingly willing to compromise its academic standards in the name of a rival set of values. But whatever Harvard’s reasons for hiring Gay, and whatever the actual effects of diversity ideology on academic standards, universities do seem to have lost interest in working to protect academic integrity in relation to other priorities.

Harvard College, for example, has an Office of Academic Integrity with a staff of eight, and an honour council of student volunteers dedicated to reviewing student plagiarism charges. (Most other divisions of the university, and most other universities, have no such office.) But Harvard has 12 diversity offices, one for each campus unit, with a total of over 70 permanent staff (not including faculty committees and various student fellows). It has at least four offices related to gender equity, with another 67 staff. This of course doesn’t include the numerous academic departments devoted to the study of race- and gender-themed topics, which further illustrate Harvard’s vastly more intense commitment to the value of diversity.  

What explains this disparity? Some may think it’s perfectly justifiable for universities to prioritise these programmes because racism and sexism are rightly seen as social evils that must be combatted. But why has this task been elevated above all other moral issues, including academic dishonesty, at a university? Universities are ostensibly devoted to excellence in education, and plagiarism is anathema to the educational value of the pursuit of truth. Indeed, Harvard’s celebrated motto is Veritas not Diversitas. Why then does it seem to invest so little energy in the honesty of its own faculty and students, and so much in other efforts that seem less central to the very mission of an educational institution? 

Latest Podcast

Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.


On Instagram @quillette