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Colleagues Rally to Harvard Sociology Prof.’s Defense Following Plagiarism Allegations

Harvard's Department of Sociology is housed in William James Hall. The department issued a statement on Sunday in support of professor Christina J. Cross, the fourth Black woman at Harvard to be accused of plagiarism in recent weeks.
Harvard's Department of Sociology is housed in William James Hall. The department issued a statement on Sunday in support of professor Christina J. Cross, the fourth Black woman at Harvard to be accused of plagiarism in recent weeks. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Tilly R. Robinson, Crimson Staff Writer

After an anonymous complaint accused Harvard sociology professor Christina J. Cross of plagiarism last week, her colleagues at Harvard quickly rose to her defense, denying the plagiarism charges and characterizing them as part of a campaign against Black woman scholars.

In a Sunday statement, Harvard’s Department of Sociology expressed its “full and unalloyed support” for Cross.

The letter, sent to The Crimson by Sociology department chair Frank Dobbin, denounced the plagiarism allegations as “absurd.”

“We find these bogus claims to be particularly troubling in the context of a series of attacks on Black women in academia with the clear subtext that they have no place in our universities,” the statement read. “Dr. Cross is a brilliant scholar who we ranked at the very top of our pool of applicants when we hired her, from a field of hundreds, on the strength of her scholarship.”

Since December, four Black women at Harvard have been accused of plagiarism in anonymous complaints to the University. The latest allegations, against Cross, were first reported last week by conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo, who framed them as part of his attack on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs throughout higher education.

The lengthiest allegations in the complaint compared Cross’s descriptions of datasets with similar descriptions in other papers. The authors of two of those papers disputed the allegations in statements to The Crimson.

In a public statement on Thursday, 18 scholars who help lead large, publicly-funded datasets — including the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a description of which Cross was accused of plagiarizing — wrote they were “deeply concerned” about allegations they described as “false.”

“It’s not simply that Dr. Cross’s writings do not constitute plagiarism,” the scholars wrote. “Rather, her description of a large public dataset in this standardized way is simply good research practice — helping to ensure replicability and transparency.”

The Journal of Marriage and Family, a peer-reviewed academic journal published by the National Council on Family Relations, issued a statement supporting Cross — a member of its editorial board — in a post on X.

“We condemn the contemptible attacks aimed at undermining and threatening scholars focused on race and racism, in particular Black women academics,” the journal wrote.

In a series of posts on X, Rufo mocked academics who took to X to defend Cross, repeatedly referring to them as “professors for plagiarism.”

He also implied that Black scholars who study race or social justice could be more likely to plagiarize than their white peers and described the allegations against Cross as evidence that the study of race was “rife with fraud,” calling in one post for a “a complete and total shutdown of the sociology profession until we figure out what the hell is going on.”

“For the record, I have asked my source to also search the academic work of white scholars in grievance departments at Harvard and, thus far, they have not turned up plagiarism,” Rufo posted on X Sunday, though he did not provide any evidence for his claim. “This is not a large-scale study, but it’s certainly plausible that lower academic standards for ‘diversity and inclusion’ hires could be correlated with a disparity in plagiarism and other forms of academic incompetence.”

“This is, in one way, definitional to DEI hiring,” Rufo added.

Political science professor Donald Moynihan — a faculty member at Georgetown’s public policy school— argued in a Substack post that the allegations represent an attempt to intimidate Black academics and scholars of race.

“Those who perceive certain scholars or topics as inherently illegitimate are using academic misconduct accusations to attack them,” Moynihan wrote. “They do not actually care about the validity of the claims, or evidence that might rebut them.”

Correction: March 25, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Donald Moynihan was the chair of Georgetown’s public policy school. In fact, Moynihan is a professor at the school.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson can be reached at Follow her on X @tillyrobin.

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