Posted on January 30, 2024

Harvard’s Chief Diversity Officer Plagiarized and Claimed Credit for Husband’s Work, Complaint Alleges

Aaron Sibarium, Washington Free Beacon, January 30, 2024

It’s not just Claudine Gay. Harvard University’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, Sherri Ann Charleston, appears to have plagiarized extensively in her academic work, lifting large portions of text without quotation marks and even taking credit for a study done by another scholar—her own husband—according to a complaint filed with the university on Monday and a Washington Free Beacon analysis.

The complaint makes 40 allegations of plagiarism that span the entirety of Charleston’s thin publication record. In her 2009 dissertation, submitted to the University of Michigan, Charleston quotes or paraphrases nearly a dozen scholars without proper attribution, the complaint alleges. And in her sole peer-reviewed journal article—coauthored with her husband, LaVar Charleston, in 2014—the couple recycle much of a 2012 study published by LaVar Charleston, the deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, framing the old material as new research.

Through that sleight of hand, Sherri Ann Charleston effectively took credit for her husband’s work. The 2014 paper, which was also coauthored with Jerlando Jackson, now the dean of Michigan State University’s College of Education, and appeared in the Journal of Negro Education, has the same methods, findings, and description of survey subjects as the 2012 study, which involved interviews with black computer science students and was first published by the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education.

The two papers even report identical interview responses from those students. The overlap suggests that the authors did not conduct new interviews for the 2014 study but instead relied on LaVar Charleston’s interviews from 2012—a severe breach of research ethics, according to experts who reviewed the allegations.

“The 2014 paper appears to be entirely counterfeit,” said Peter Wood, the head of the National Association of Scholars and a former associate provost at Boston University, where he ran several academic integrity probes. “This is research fraud pure and simple.”

Sherri Ann Charleston was the chief affirmative action officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison before she joined Harvard in August 2020 as its first-ever chief diversity officer. In that capacity, Charleston served on the staff advisory committee that helped guide the university’s presidential search process that resulted in the selection of former Harvard president Claudine Gay in December 2022, according to the Harvard Crimson.

A historian and attorney by training, Charleston has taught courses on gender studies at the University of Wisconsin, according to her Harvard bio, which describes her as “one of the nation’s leading experts in diversity.” The site says that her work involves “translating diversity and inclusion research into practice for students, staff, researchers, postdoctoral fellows and faculty of color.”

Experts who reviewed the allegations against Charleston said that they ranged from minor plagiarism to possible data fraud and warrant an investigation. Some also argued that Charleston had committed a more serious scholarly sin than Gay, Harvard’s former president, who resigned in January after she was accused of lifting long passages from other authors without proper attribution.

Papers that omit a few citations or quotation marks rarely receive more than a correction, experts said. But when scholars recycle large chunks of a previous study—especially its data or conclusions—without attribution, the duplicate paper is often retracted and can even violate copyright law.

That offense, known as duplicate publication, is typically a form of self-plagiarism in which authors republish old work in a bid to pad their résumés. Here, though, the duplicate paper added two new authors, Sherri Ann Charleston and Jerlando Jackson, who had no involvement in the original, letting them claim credit for the research and making them party to the con.

“Sherri Charleston appears to have used somebody else’s research without proper attribution,” said Steve McGuire, a former political theory professor at Villanova University, who reviewed both the 2012 and 2014 papers.

One-fifth of the 2014 paper, including two-thirds of its “findings” section, was published in the 2012 study, according to the complaint, and three interview responses are identical in both articles, suggesting they come from the same survey.

According to Lee Jussim, a social psychologist at Rutgers University, “it is essentially impossible for two different people in two different studies to produce the same quote.” At best, he said, the authors got their wires crossed and mixed up interviews from two separate surveys, both of which just happened to involve 37 participants with the exact same demographic profile. At worst, the authors committed data fraud by framing old survey responses as new ones—a separate and more serious offense.


Some of Charleston’s offenses are similar to Gay’s. In her 2009 dissertation, for example, Charleston borrows a sentence from Eric Arnesen’s 1991 book Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics, 1863-1923, without quotation marks and without citing Arnesen’s work in a footnote.

She also lifts full paragraphs from her thesis adviser, Rebecca Scott, while making minimal semantic tweaks.


Charleston also lifted language from Louis Pérez, an historian at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Alejandro de la Fuente, an historian at Harvard; and Ada Ferrer, an historian at New York University, among other scholars.

Charleston cites each source in a footnote but omits quotation marks around language copied verbatim. The omissions violate Harvard’s Guide to Using Sources, a document produced for incoming students, which states that quotation marks are required when “you copy language word for word.”