Harvard’s ‘Appalling’ Double Standard: Claudine Gay vs. Francesca Gino


Before the social media frenzy over allegations that the president of Harvard University was a plagiarist, there was a little-noticed task quietly completed by President Claudine Gay in her office in Massachusetts Hall.

Gay personally signed off on the paperwork that launched a tenure revocation process for embattled Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino who, like Gay, was accused of research misconduct.  At the request of Harvard Business School Dean Srikant Datar, Gay did so just as reporters for the New York Post contacted Harvard for comment on a story the newspaper planned to run about the allegations that Gay had plagiarized the work of other scholars. Harvard immediately lawyered up, threatened to sue the Post for defamation, and vigorously and wrongly defended Gay without conducting a full investigation of the charges. The newspaper initially held the story back.

The Post initially contacted Harvard on Oct. 24. Gino received her copy of the paperwork signed by Gay on Oct. 25. the day after Harvard claims it first heard of the allegations against Gay.


To even a casual observer, it might seem an odd, incongruous moment. What gall it had to take for a university president accused of research misconduct herself giving her approval to begin the extraordinary process of stripping away tenure from a professor for the first time in Harvard’s history.

Fast forward to today. Thoroughly humiliated by severe doubts about her academic integrity, Gay has made two rounds of corrections to her scholarly work. While some of the violations may have been minor, side-by-side text comparisons revealed evidence that massive sections were copied verbatim. She resigned her presidency on Jan. 2 after fierce criticism over Harvard’s response to the Hamas attack on Israel and the anti-Semetic behaviors of its students, including a mob assault on a Jewish student. Then, there was the widespread backlash from Gay’s disastrous congressional testimony followed by the allegations of plagiarism. But she remains a fully tenured professor at Harvard with her current presidential salary which is likely more than $1 million a year (HBS Dean Datar’s salary was $982,658 back in 2021).

Yet, Gay’s treatment stands in stark contrast to how Harvard has dealt with one of its superstar professors who also has been accused of research misconduct. Gino was placed on unpaid leave, banned from campus, stripped of her salary and health care benefits for herself and her family, and prohibited from publishing on Harvard’s platforms. She is also facing the revocation of tenure initiated by Dean Datar and signed off by former President Gay. Their treatment of Gino has come under severe criticism from at least seven tenured professors at Harvard Business School.


It’s worth pointing out that Gay and Gino both were covered by nearly identical research misconduct policies. Those policies define research misconduct as the “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results. Research misconduct includes fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism.”

So why was the university’s treatment by Harvard strikingly different? We first addressed this double standard last month (see Claudine Gay and Francesca Gino: Why Is Harvard Protecting One & Punishing The Other For Research Misconduct?). But it’s helpful to contrast the differences in a more detailed fashion (see table below) that demonstrates just how unsettling this turn of events has become. The irony is not lost on Gino’s lawyers, who are representing her in a $25 million lawsuit against the university, Dean Datar, and the authors of a blog, Data Colada, who first made their allegations of Gino’s research misconduct.

“Once again, Harvard has blatantly demonstrated their make-it-up-as-you-go approach to addressing allegations of research misconduct,” says Andrew T. Miltenberg, Gino’s attorney. “Clearing President Gay of misconduct before an investigation even concluded shows just how far Harvard is willing to go to protect the corporation’s reputation. Harvard developed and applied a policy to Professor Gino that ended her career and destroyed her reputation, while simultaneously working to protect the reputation of President Gay at all costs. This double standard is appalling.”


Miltenberg is not the only one complaining about the double standard in the way Gino has been treated. “Paradoxically, Gay oversaw 42 cases where Harvard students were disciplined for plagiarism last year alone,” notes Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the management and leadership professor at Yale’s School of Management, in a recently published essay. “This year, a prominent tenured Harvard Business School professor has already been disciplined, put on unpaid leave, and is currently being reviewed for possible tenure revocation on the back of similar allegations. Instead of applying equal standards of justice to Gay, she and the corporation falsely denied the allegation and clumsily threatened the media with litigation for reporting honest facts. They even hired a law firm with well-documented unsavory brutal tactics and a client list that includes discredited villains, Russian oligarchs, and Me-too predators.”

Sonnenfeld adds that the victims of Gay’s plagiarism “were actually scholars in Gay’s field, including a former Vanderbilt professor, Dr. Carol M. Swain, who complained of massive, documented plagiarism of her work by Gay. This Vanderbilt professor claiming the theft of her work is not a prior Harvard critic but a Black scholar of African American history…” 

Unlike Gino, Gay was able to orchestrate her departure. She quickly published an op-ed piece in The New York Times immediately after her resignation under the headline, What Just Happened At Harvard Is Bigger Than Me. In it, she conceded that she had made some errors in her academic citations by failing to properly attribute some of her sources but never used the word plagiarism.  “My critics,” wrote Gay, “found instances in my academic writings where some material duplicated other scholars’ language, without proper attribution.

Gay has since requested corrections to her dissertation and two articles, a move she maintained was in line with how other similar cases involving faculty were resolved at Harvard. “Moreover,” she wrote, “the citation errors should not obscure a fundamental truth: I proudly stand by my work and its impact on the field,” added Gay.

What just happened at Harvard is, in fact, bigger than Gay’s resignation.


Claudine Gay has been accused of nearly 50 allegations of plagiarism across nearly half of her 11 academic papers. Francesca Gino was accused of 4 allegations of research misconduct, which accounts for a small portion of her nearly 150 academic papers.
Claudine Gay will remain on Harvard faculty, with reports claiming she will continue to earn well over $900,000 a year. Francesca Gino was placed on academic leave for 2 years without benefits or pay, and the university has initiated the process to begin to revoke her tenure status.
Claudine Gay was cleared from any wrongdoing by Harvard before a full investigation started. Francesca Gino was treated as guilty of misconduct by Harvard before her investigation was complete and was denied a thorough forensics investigation into the accusations made against her.
Claudine Gay denied allegations of plagiarism, worked to silence the reporting of the New York Post, and made corrections to her academic record only under duress. Claudine Gay did not use the word ‘plagiarism’ in her New York Times essay but rather stated that she misattributed quotes in her academic writings. Francesca Gino denies allegations of research misconduct and willingly retracted papers where the data could not be replicated. In fact, one of the four papers that was the subject of Harvard’s investigation had already been willingly retracted by Francesca Gino and her co-authors.
Despite Claudine Gay’s initial efforts to deny or silence these claims, Harvard has shown remarkable sympathy for President Gay’s attacks in the media, stating: “While President Gay has acknowledged missteps and has taken responsibility for them, it is also true that she has shown remarkable resilience in the face of deeply personal and sustained attacks.” Harvard demonstrated no such empathy or concern for the extreme public attacks experienced by Gino.
When the Harvard Corporation finally acknowledged Claudine Gay’s plagiarism, they referred to it specifically as “unintentional,” a level of specificity required under the school’s data integrity policy. Dean Datar and the Investigation Committee referred to Francesca Gino’s alleged misconduct without naming the level of intent, something which the policy dictates that it name.


Instead, they used the broader/nonspecific “intentionally, or knowingly, or recklessly” while failing to identify or provide any evidence of intent.

Harvard and Claudine Gay closely coordinated plans to address this transition:

·       They agreed she would return to the faculty as a professor.

·       She was able to have a PR plan in place with coordinated timing to get her message out there.

·       She had the public support of The Harvard Corporation.

Harvard notified Francesca Gino at 5:30 pm and had its own plan in place to broadcast this news, denying Gino the ability to coordinate – and cementing Harvard’s narrative of what happened with the public and across her professional network.


HBS Dean Datar informed Professor Gino:

·      that she was being placed on unpaid administrative leave for a period of two years;

·      that she would receive no salary or benefits after July 31, 2023;

·      that he was revoking her named professorship, the Tandon Family Professor of Business;

·      that he was requesting Harvard’s President initiate “Third Statute proceedings” to revoke her tenured professorial appointment at Harvard;

·      that, for the period of her administrative leave, and effective immediately: (a) she was not permitted to conduct research, to teach, to mentor or advise; (b) she would receive no administrative or research support; (c) she was barred from campus, effectively immediately; and (d) she was prohibited from publishing or disseminating research via HBS platforms.


Harvard immediately sent retraction letters to publications, listed Gino’s suspension on their website, and notified HBS faculty.

Harvard appears to have utilized its existing data misconduct policy and did not quickly change existing school policy. Harvard Business School quickly developed an entirely new “Interim Policy and Procedures for Responding to Allegations of Research Misconduct” for Francesca Gino’s investigation, tailored to her case and designed to ensure her guilt. Against convention, Harvard senior faculty were not involved in the development of this new policy or even made aware of its existence for nearly 2 years. Faculty were outraged by this.
Harvard only investigated papers of Gay’s that were in scope, based on the rules of the investigation. Harvard investigated three papers of Gino’s that were out of scope, based on the rules of the investigation.


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