Bates College Professor Tyler Austin Harper hit the nail on the head in his essay on the Claudine Gay affair in The Atlantic.
Harper states what should have been obvious to the meanest intelligence: the biggest and most revealing part of the scandal is the lengths to which Gay’s defenders chose to go in order to defend a person manifestly guilty of the charges of which she had been accused. And her defenders did so not because of any particular allegiance to Gay, but because her accusors were conservatives whom the defenders despised.
The true scandal of the Claudine Gay affair is not a Harvard president and her plagiarism. The true scandal is that so many journalists and academics were willing, are still willing, to redefine plagiarism to suit their politics. Gay’s boosters have consistently resorted to Orwellian doublespeak—“duplicative language” and academic “sloppiness” and “technical attribution issues”—in a desperate effort to insist that lifting entire paragraphs of another scholar’s work, nearly word for word, without quotation or citation, isn’t plagiarism. Or that if it is plagiarism, it’s merely a technicality. Or that we all do it. (Soon after Rufo and Brunet made their initial accusations last month, Gay issued a statement saying, “I stand by the integrity of my scholarship.” She did not address those or subsequent plagiarism allegations in her resignation letter.)
Rufo won this round of the academic culture war because he exposed so many progressive scholars and journalists to be hypocrites and political actors who were willing to throw their ideals overboard. I suspect that, not the tenure of a Harvard president, was the prize he sought all along. The tragedy is that we didn’t have to give it to him.
Harper is not a conservative nor a fan of Rufo, but he recognizes that all these media and academic defenders of Gay essentially proved Rufo’s key point: academia and the media are politicized and corrupt.
Harper is worried that conservatives are making progress in our war against academia, but he can’t deny the essential truth of our accusations. How can he? Gay was guilty, and her defenders did everything they could to deny that fact for no reason other than their tribal affiliation with her and Harvard.
They continue to do so, throwing out every sort of nasty accusation they can against her critics while inventing obviously BS defenses of Gay herself. They simply can’t let conservatives win, even when we are right. It is the same phenomenon we saw during COVID-19 on so many issues in dispute: if a conservative argues something, they must be destroyed. Truth or falsity doesn’t come into consideration.
We see this all the time in the conservative media–“fact checkers,” Media Matters, Big Tech gatekeepers, and the advertising networks all label us “misinformers” and call us racist, sexist, and every name in the book. It’s why we keep pitching our VIP program–without you, our voice would be silenced. And we use the code SAVEAMERICA because it is only independent media and you that can do so.
Norm Ornstein, among others, demonstrated his tribal affiliation and his determination to fight for Gay by…attacking Christopher Rufo. Letting him win, even when right, is unacceptable.
That is the key point about Claudine Gay. Whatever her faults, and they clearly are many, she was not targeted by well-meaning people. She was part of a larger radical right assault on prestigious higher education institutions. Rufo and Stefanik leading the way. https://t.co/lredzGidaY
— Norman Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) January 3, 2024
You can read countless think pieces about how the resignation of Gay set a bad precedent–letting conservatives win when they are perfectly right. The idea is that truth or falsity are irrelevant; bad, racist people must be put in their place.
— Chad Felix Greene 🇮🇱 (@chadfelixg) January 2, 2024
This is the “we are the good guys” fallacy writ large. It is exactly the same logic as “saving democracy” by slandering your opponents, putting them in jail, and kicking them off the ballot. “We are the good guys, and we will prove it by being tyrants. Tyranny in the service of goodness is no vice.”
Harper’s essay is, itself, masterful in letting everybody know that he hates Chris Rufo and conservatives as much as the average academic, but he can’t quite get away from the essential truth that Gay was guilty of the charges of academic misconduct.
The defenses put forward in support of Gay were pure gaslighting, and Harper has to admit it.
Using watery euphemisms to refer to blatant plagiarism debases our profession, and the assertion that everyone plagiarizes if you just look hard enough debases it further. The media are currently distracted by the shiny bauble of Harvard’s ousted president, but we should be far more concerned about the crisis of academic culture that this incident has exposed. For all the talk of “glass ceilings,” Gay is a Cambridge woman through and through: Born to a family that runs a Haitian concrete empire, she was shot out of America’s most prestigious boarding school before being educated at Princeton, Stanford, and Harvard. As the first Black woman to lead America’s most prestigious university, Gay may have changed the color of the mold, but she sure didn’t break it.
The idea that clear and long-established criteria for plagiarism should have been thrown out to save the elite-born president of an elite university, solely on the basis of her skin color, is not only preposterous; it’s that old soft bigotry. There are talented senior academics and administrators of color across this country who don’t need anyone to lower plagiarism standards for them. Harvard can, and should, hire one of them. Doing so would put a thumb in the eye of the meddling right, defending the ideal of diversity while sending a clear message that neither conservative media nor billionaire alumni get to decide who runs the university.
What few academics are left who have integrity have yet to fully comprehend is that we oppose them and theirs not because we are neanderthals who instinctively hate academia–I come from an academic family with 3 Harvard degrees among my parents and siblings, and taught in colleges for 6 years–but because academia has become a scourge destroying America.
It is filled with gaslighters, people who lie professionally in order to push their ideological agendas, and over the past few weeks, the Left has been engaged in a campaign to prove us correct.
Rufo wasn’t just right about Gay–he is right about the need for a campaign to completely destroy the current academic order. It is corrupt, filled with professional liars who will twist the truth to suit their needs.
Do we need additional evidence to prove this?
No, we saw it on full display over the past few weeks as academics did their best to gaslight us in defense of Gay.
Harper, in his piece, makes a plea for academic integrity and begs his colleagues to realize that by having integrity and remaining liberal, they can poke us conservatives in the eye.
In this, he is sadly wrong. Not because conservatives don’t occasionally deserve to be poked in the eye. We do, just like everybody else. We get things wrong, or members of our tribe do awful or dishonest things. The world is fallen, and even those of us with goodwill get things wrong.
But conservatives have one advantage in these battles that liberals do not: we get both fair and unfair pushback and have to hone our skills and our arguments in order to be heard above the din of criticism aimed at us. Liberals don’t. Harper’s article itself is based on that very fact–the entire liberal establishment, which is 90% of the media and cultural elite–will rally around the most egregious actors in the world if they are part of the Left’s tribe.
Even as Gay resigns, she does so with no disgrace and no accountability. She keeps her (near) million-dollar salary, has everybody on the Left defending her to the last man, and her critics on the Left are the loneliest people on earth right now.
After all, Gay’s defenders have mean racistsexisthomophobicdeplorables to fight.