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Hoekstra Addresses Plagiarism Allegations Against Black Harvard Scholars, Condemns Attacks on Identity

Hopi Hoekstra is an evolutionary biologist and Harvard University's Dean of its Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Hoekstra condemned attacks targeting identity during an interview.
Hopi Hoekstra is an evolutionary biologist and Harvard University's Dean of its Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Hoekstra condemned attacks targeting identity during an interview. By Julian J. Giordano
By Tilly R. Robinson and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Hopi E. Hoekstra “unequivocally” condemned “attacks targeting a person’s identity” in a Wednesday interview with The Crimson following a string of anonymous plagiarism complaints against Black women in the FAS.

After former Harvard President Claudine Gay was accused of plagiarism in December — which contributed to her eventual resignation — three other anonymous plagiarism complaints against Harvard affiliates soon followed and were amplified by the right-wing press.

In each of the four reported cases, the subject of the complaint was a Black woman who studied race, driving many academics at Harvard and elsewhere to argue that the complaints were racially motivated.

When asked whether she would describe the allegations as a coordinated attack on Black women scholars or scholars of race and diversity, Hoekstra did not answer directly.

“I would say those promoting these anonymous allegations have publicly acknowledged their goals,” she responded.

In doing so, Hoekstra seemed to refer to conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo, who pushed the allegations into the limelight and has made no attempt to conceal their role in his broader offensive against Harvard and diversity, equity, and inclusion policies in higher education.

In a post on X responding to allegations that his airing of the plagiarism complaints was racially motivated, Rufo openly suggested Black scholars of diversity may be more likely to plagiarize than their white counterparts.

Of the four women accused of plagiarism, two — Gay and Sociology professor Christina J. Cross — are professors in the FAS. Sherri A. Charleston, Harvard’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, and Shirley R. Greene, a Title IX official at the Harvard Extension School — an FAS subdivision — have also faced complaints of varying severity.

Hoekstra did not comment on whether or not the plagiarism allegations held merit. Historically, the FAS has declined to comment on plagiarism allegations due to the confidentiality of its internal review processes.

Hoekstra said the public nature of the complaints threatened their subjects’ access to due process.

“The challenge is this approach is casting doubt on individuals before any due process can be undertaken,” she said.

Still, Hoekstra said, the FAS would take all plagiarism complaints seriously — regardless of their anonymity.

“We apply these procedures carefully and consistently and in a manner that respects due process and the privacy of individuals under review,” Hoekstra said.

The allegations, per plagiarism experts and academics, have ranged widely in merit. Though some of the allegations have been flagged as potentially problematic, many have been dismissed by experts or scholars who were allegedly plagiarized from.

Only the allegations against Gay are known to have resulted in corrections to the scholarly record.

The Harvard Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — opted to helm the investigation against Gay, calling Gay’s position of power over FAS administrators a potential conflict of interest. Neither of the other two complaints against FAS affiliates fall under the FAS policy — which only applies to work conducted while at the FAS.

Per FAS procedure, complaints that pass a preliminary assessment move on to an inquiry, which may culminate in an investigation — a potentially months-long process. As FAS dean, Hoekstra has the authority to accept or reject investigation findings — and to decide what, if any, penalties are appropriate.

Hoekstra called her goals in dealing with plagiarism allegations “twofold.”

“First is to ensure the integrity of those processes for reviewing allegations of research misconduct, and that assurance of integrity is fundamental to providing an opportunity for advancing excellence in our academic and research pursuits,” she said.

“And then second, to ensure our faculty have the support they need to undertake these pursuits — the very work that they came to Harvard to do,” Hoekstra added.

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

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at Follow him on X @neilhshah15.

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