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An Uncanny Pair: Plagiarism Claims and Political Warfare.



Rep.Stefanik (left) Dr. Claudine Gay (right)
Rep.Stefanik (left) Dr. Claudine Gay (right)

Two things we don't often discuss in the same dialogue have reached center stage this week: Plagiarism Claims and Political Warfare. The national uproar surrounded the resignation of Dr. Claudine Gay, Harvard University's first black woman president, following the political outcry from congressional leaders, reeling over what they deemed as insufficient responses to antisemitism from our nation's leading university presidents. The calls for resignations began following the hearing, and since that time, we've now lost two Ivy League University Presidents: Dr. Liz Magill, University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Claudine Gay. Dr. Sally Kornbluth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has not resigned.


Dr. Gay was also targeted for claims of plagiarism in her academic body of work, spanning her time with Harvard, Stanford, and the Public Policy Institute of California, among other published work she's contributed to research. The varying opinions are subjective to what academia would determine as plagiarism, depending on which judicial review board, one would be been subjected to. Claudine resigned as the plagiarism claims and the mainstream media seemed to overshadow her ability to move the university forward. The quiet part that needs to be reiterated aloud is that social systems hold women in leadership to a different standard than their male counterparts. We have to wonder, would there be a rallying cry for removal if Claudine's demographic makeup was the same as her predecessors? Most advocates for Dr. Gay have noted racial and patriarchal tension as the crux of the issue. I want to peel back a few more layers, targeting the system itself.


All three branches of government are currently enthralled with international affairs detailing the Hamas attack and the war on Ukraine. This fragile political atmosphere draws on our belief systems, party lines, and professional affiliations to subtly nudge us in one direction versus another. We're arguing over calls to support Israel or to support Palestine. Some have called for a ceasefire, and protests have broken out nationwide. We're being given ultimatums that threaten to judge our character as less than if we do not align with the mainstream media's beliefs about what we consider to be the greater good. What does this have to do with plagiarism claims and political warfare? Everything.


Our politicians have declared war on our ability to think for ourselves and our organizations' ability to govern their own processes, and they seem to believe planting ideals is in the best interest of our country. The dealings of plagiarism should be handled within university structures, without congressional overreach, and without trying to defame one of our country's leading scholars. Student affairs policy about free speech, violence, or harassment is also a mechanism that should be handled organizationally. This is all tied to a strategy, an objective, an ideology, and a belief system about who our country serves and who is underserved.


"The dealings of plagiarism should be handled within university structures, without congressional overreach, and without trying to defame one of our country's leading scholars. "

John J. Pitney's book "The Art of Political Warfare" describes the phenomenon succinctly, noting the similarities between politics and war: 1) Both are organized struggles between opposing human wills. Our domestic struggles currently hinge upon who will govern this country after the 2024 presidential election: Democratic or Republican leadership. Although it is not formally verbalized, we're all invested in these outcomes practically and emotionally, which is most certainly used to divide us instead of uniting us. 2) Both arouse deep passion, especially hostility. With the recent congressional hearing and the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action and federal student loans, we've seen firsthand the hostility toward Higher Education. This is just one example of the hostility in the political atmosphere. 3) Both expose participants to peril and uncertainty. We're confused about who's inflicting economic hardship and who should be held accountable; we're uncertain about what happens next and what laws and policies need to change. We're pointing fingers at our colleagues of different ethnicities, political views, and salient identities while our nation's leaders seem to pit us against one another. 4) Both require elaborate strategies and tactics. The campaign strategies are alive and well, fueled by the relentless need to use people and organizational entities as pawns to carry out a larger agenda.

"Our domestic struggles currently hinge upon who will govern this country after the 2024 presidential election: Democratic or Republican leadership. Although it is not formally verbalized, we're all invested in these outcomes practically and emotionally, which is most certainly used to divide us instead of uniting us."

We have a choice in how we respond to the bids for continued chaos, and it's essential to offer a few recommendations about how to dialogue on these issues without being roped into groupthink or social coercion for having a diverse perspective or difference of opinion:


  1. Make informed decisions this election cycle: If you've never really given it a second thought and consistently just voted based on your political party, I encourage you to research and understand the policies you're voting for and the political leaders representing your state and the country.

  2. Support dialogue that invites diverse and diplomatic perspectives: The political atmosphere would have you believe there is one right way and one wrong way to run this country. The bipartisan concept needs to return, and it can only work if we're willing to elect leaders who govern with diplomacy, efficacy, and common decency. Dissent is a part of democracy; disrespect is not.

  3. Recognize that educational spaces are a necessity: As practitioners, policymakers, teachers, professors, senior administrators, and scholars, we have to ensure our spaces are treated as such. Additionally, we must recognize that educational opportunities happen beyond the school walls. They happen in our places of worship, hobbies, families, and shared community spaces. Do not limit your means of educating yourself or your family to mainstream outlets, social media soundbites, etc. Commit to information sharing and clarification, minimizing the opportunity for misinformation to spread. There is always room for a teachable moment if we're willing to teach and be taught.


It's not easy to ascend to the highest levels of leadership, and with that comes increased scrutiny. This is the beginning of a pivotal time in our country, where we must reimagine educational spaces and opportunities for ideation. We must also choose progression over stagnation and empowerment models over deficit models. Only then do we begin to take control of the narrative.


Rebuttals are always welcome,

Jade M. Felder

@felderofficial



Book Recommendation/Citation:

Pitney Jr, J. J. (2001). The art of political warfare. University of Oklahoma Press.


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