Carol Swain, one of the most prominent conservative black scholars in the nation whose ideas appear to have been lifted and riffed on by Harvard University’s Claudine Gay without credit, has sent a letter to the institution’s leaders demanding answers and “remedies.”
The Jan. 3 letter is addressed to Harvard Corporation fellows, who oversee the school, and states Swain’s 1993 book “Black Faces, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress” was the “subject of plagiarism, use without citation, and unlawful copying” by Gay.
Gay resigned as president of Harvard University on Tuesday amid nearly 50 accusations of plagiarism as well as criticisms over her apathy toward extreme campus antisemitism. She will remain a professor at the Ivy League institution, earning $900,000 annually.
The legal letter calls Swain’s book “a seminal work on Black representation in Congress” and notes it has been cited in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
“Accordingly, Dr. Swain is entitled to certain rights and remedies arising from the prohibited use of its content,” stated the letter, penned by her attorneys. “Through its acts, omissions, and public statements surrounding the use of Dr. Swain’s work, the Harvard Corporation is now invested in this matter and its subsequent outcome.”
Swain, a former Vanderbilt University law and political science professor, told The College Fix she has been incredibly frustrated to learn of the plagiarism, and called Gay a “serial plagiarizer.”
“Part of my complaint with her is not just the two places in which she lifted language,” Swain said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview. “It has to do with her trying to refute what I was saying, but not really citing the work and engaging the work in the way that scholars do.”
Gay, in an op-ed in The New York Times on Wednesday, denied all plagiarism allegations.
“My critics found instances in my academic writings where some material duplicated other scholars’ language, without proper attribution,” she wrote, adding she requested a few corrections for some of the claims.
“I have never misrepresented my research findings, nor have I ever claimed credit for the research of others,” Gay wrote. “Moreover, the citation errors should not obscure a fundamental truth: I proudly stand by my work and its impact on the field.”
Swain told The Fix that not only did Gay lift her ideas without credit — Gay worked to refute Swain’s arguments without proper credit.
“There is not a problem with you challenging someone else’s work or affirming it or expanding it — but you need to engage the work and cite it,” Swain said.
In a Dec. 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Swain argued Gay’s “scholarship on black congressional representation, electoral districting and descriptive representation builds on terrain where I plowed the ground.”
“When scholars aren’t cited adequately or their work is ignored, it harms them because academic stature is determined by how often other researchers cite your work,” Swain’s op-ed stated.
“Ms. Gay had no problem riding on the coattails of people whose work she used without proper attribution. Many of those whose work she pilfered aren’t as incensed as I am. They are elites who have benefited from a system that protects its own.”
While Swain is now an outspoken Christian conservative, at the time she wrote “Black Faces, Black Interests” in the mid-1990s she said she was a Democrat just trying to produce good scholarship.
She told The Fix she worked incredibly hard to get where she is today and will not allow the plagiarism to go unchallenged because it could set a horrible new standard.
“I’ve had people tell me because I am black and she is black I should let it go,” Swain said. “If Harvard gets away with redefining plagiarism and establishing a lower standard for black scholars — or any scholar — that is not good for education in America.”
“It will not only impact every college and university but K-12 education. It takes us down a further path that most of us are trying to figure out a way to get out of,” she said.
Harvard Corporation’s investigation into Gay’s scholarship dismissed the lifted concepts and wording as “inadequate citation” that did not rise to the level of academic misconduct, the New York Post reported.
Several leading progressive black scholars have blamed racism for Gay’s downfall.
“They are acting like liberal Democrat politicians,” Swain told The Fix. “They are taking stances that seem to be political, that blame conservatives, and there is so much wrong with that picture.”
“The people that are questioning her are people trying to fight for academic integrity.”
IMAGE: Carol M. Swain website