- Several plagiarism scandals have recently rocked Harvard University, and Americans’ trust in universities is on the decline, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
- Multiple Harvard officials have been accused of research misconduct since December.
- “Any instance of malfeasance in academia or anywhere else erodes trust. We scholars trust one another to do the right thing. The students trust us to do the right thing,” Marshall Poe, founder of the New Books Network and former Harvard professor, told the DCNF.
Multiple plagiarism scandals have rocked Harvard over the past few months at a time when Americans’ trust in universities is declining, experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Since December, several Harvard officials have been accused of plagiarizing in their academic works, including former Harvard President Claudine Gay, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sherri Charleston, neuroscientist and professor Khalid Shah and multiple researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Meanwhile, Americans’ confidence in higher education fell 12% from 2018 to 2023, which education experts say is a trend expected to continue.
“Any instance of malfeasance in academia or anywhere else erodes trust. We scholars trust one another to do the right thing. The students trust us to do the right thing. The American people trust us to do the right thing. When we don’t, they begin to wonder whether that trust is deserved,” Marshall Poe, founder of the New Books Network and former Harvard professor, told the DCNF.
Gay resigned from her position as Harvard president on Jan. 2 following multiple plagiarism accusations, including in her dissertation. Shah was accused of presenting other scientists’ images as his own and falsifying data in 44 different instances from 2001 to 2023.
“It’s probably not uncommon to find a couple of sentences in a Ph.D. thesis that might be copied from elsewhere, but that is very mild compared to copying a whole text from someone else, which is much rarer. Most of the recently found problems might fall somewhere in between,” Elisabeth Bik, the research manipulation expert who discovered Shah’s alleged research misconduct, told the DCNF.
Charleston allegedly plagiarized over 40 passages throughout her academic works, including her 2009 dissertation and her single peer-reviewed paper. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a Harvard Medical School affiliate, announced in January it planned to retract six studies and correct 31 papers as a part of an ongoing investigation into several cancer researchers and administrators.
The plagiarism scandals at Harvard are “very surprising and alarming,” Avi Loeb, a theoretical physicist at Harvard, told the DCNF.
Confidence in higher education fell from 48% in 2018 to 36% in 2023, both down from the 57% recorded in 2015, according to the Gallup poll. A decline was recorded among every demographic polled, which included education, gender and age.
“The academy has too much pressure to cut corners, manipulate data, and speed past potential issues during peer review and editorial review. The academy probably needs to rebalance quality vs. quantity in research output,” Adam Kissel, visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, told the DCNF.
“Even as of last summer, public confidence in higher education had dropped ‘sharply,’ according to Gallup,” Jonathan Butcher, education fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy, told the DCNF. “And that was before the recent episode with Harvard President Gay. What is happening at Harvard is doing nothing to restore that confidence.”
Democrats, Independents and Republicans’ confidence in higher education fell 3%, 12% and 20%, respectively, according to Gallup.
“Are scandals a larger source of credibility/trust erosion than are, say, the blatantly politicized nature of many academic institutions and social science and humanities fields? No one knows,” Lee Jussim, psychology professor at Rutgers University, told the DCNF.
“There is simply too much published and not enough time to check. When you peer review a paper or book, you are not looking for plagiarism. You simply trust that the scholar didn’t commit it. The entire system is based on trust,” Poe told the DCNF. “Trust is earned, and we need to earn it.”
Harvard did not respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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