Posted on February 27, 2024

Harvard Corporation Did Not Review Claudine Gay’s Scholarship in Presidential Search

Emma H. Haidar and Cam E. Kettles, Harvard Crimson, February 23, 2024

Harvard Corporation Senior Fellow Penny S. Pritzker ’81 and the presidential search committee chose Claudine Gay as Harvard’s 30th president without conducting a scholarly review of her work, according to a person familiar with the process.

The committee favored Gay’s administrative expertise during the process, passing over two internal candidates who boasted both administrative experience and far more extensive scholarship credentials: Tomiko Brown-Nagin and John F. Manning ’82.

Brown-Nagin, dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, published two books and won the highest award in American History writing, while Manning, dean of Harvard Law School, argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and wrote more than 40 legal articles.


Gay was heralded as a brilliant political scientist and successful university administrator upon her selection as Harvard’s president, but her scholarly record was comparatively thin.

The revelation about the search process gives insight on how the search committee managed to pick a president whose scholarship would later come under microscopic scrutiny for allegations of plagiarism in December, after she had already faced months of controversy over the University’s response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

An investigation by the Corporation later found that her work contained multiple instances of “duplicative language,” leading Gay to make a total of seven corrections across two articles and her Ph.D. dissertation.

The plagiarism allegations, which were first reported by right-wing media outlets, raised questions about the extent to which the search committee vetted Gay and how the allegations were not discovered during the search process.

A person familiar with the process said Gay’s lengthy experience as a senior administrator led the Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — to not conduct a more comprehensive review of her scholarship.


The search for Harvard’s 30th president lasted just five months, making it the shortest Harvard presidential search in almost 70 years.

The 15-person presidential search committee narrowed a pool of 600 initial nominations down to just one person: Claudine Gay.

Gay, who served three years as Social Sciences divisional dean and five years as FAS dean, was widely considered to be a prominent contender to succeed former University President Lawrence S. Bacow from the moment he announced his retirement in June 2022.


A source close to the Harvard search in 2022 said that the search committee felt that any candidate for Harvard’s presidency must be known to be an outstanding scholar.


But Gay’s administrative roles at the University also led the search committee to make a disastrous decision to not review her scholarship more closely.

A person who has served on leadership search committees at various colleges and universities said that Harvard, like other universities, does not conduct extensive reviews and plagiarism checks on the scholarship of its serious contenders. Instead, the University relied on the conclusions of previous search committees and tenure reviews.

The Corporation seemingly believed a review would be unnecessary, even though university presidents — especially leaders of prominent institutions like Harvard — are usually subject to a higher level of scrutiny.

But when the Corporation learned of the plagiarism allegations in October 2023, they then launched an independent review process that found several instances of “duplicative language” — where quotation marks were missing or attribution was omitted entirely.