Whew, what a day it’s been for higher ed!

The Claudine Gay debacle at Harvard has raised some fundamental questions about academia in general. She was president of the university, traditionally seen as the pinnacle of American academia.

But a careful look at her extremely thin academic publishing record was packed with unattributed borrowings from other authors in her own field.

Once all of this became public, and in light of her Congressional testimony in which she found a new love for the free speech that has been heretofore nearly banned at Harvard, it became impossible for her to continue as president and so she resigned.

That’s the headline story but there is surely more going on. The press ran examples of her plagiarism. It was obvious to any graduate student that it qualified as such. It would result in removal from the class and likely the whole program.

And yet the president of Harvard got away with it for many years.

There had already been investigations ongoing but they seemed more performative than prosecutorial, which is a scandal of its own. Once it all came out into the open, thanks to independent reporters and media, there was no other way this could end.

And yet, how long had people known? When she was hired in the first place, why was this never checked? How about when she was appointed Dean? How about when she was at Stanford? How about when she was awarded a prestigious prize for her Harvard dissertation that we now know is compromised? Maybe they knew but pushed her up the ranks anyway.

None of this speaks well of Harvard or academia in general, much less the vaunted “peer review” process.

Stranger still for people on the outside was reading the side-by-side comparisons of her prose and that from which she borrowed. None of it seemed to make much sense or be otherwise meaningful. It is all written in a highly stylized way that only people in academia could possibly understand and probably they cannot understand it either. It has the feel of high-level scholarship without the substance.

One gathers that the thesis of her writing is always the same: racism is all-pervasive. Everything else is just filler. In defense of herself, writing in the New York Times, she essentially blames racism and also distrust of public health and media for forcing her to step down.

“This was merely a single skirmish in a broader war to unravel public faith in pillars of American society …. Trusted institutions of all types—from public health agencies to news organizations—will continue to fall victim to coordinated attempts to undermine their legitimacy and ruin their leaders’ credibility.”

That’s some amazing rhetoric right there, effectively arguing that she must remain president of Harvard despite 50-plus instances of plagiarism in her work, otherwise American society will fall! And by America, remember what she means: the rarefied and highly privileged Ivy elite that went to the “best” schools, bring down million dollar salaries, and believe they have every right to rule the rest of us for our own good.

The actual subtext of her piece was apparent to a sympathetic reader in the comments:

“Welcome to the America of TRUMP & his allies & followers. We have entered dangerous times that are very similar to pre-war Nazi Germany. Trump & his movement must be countered strongly and stopped.”

Truly, this is how these people think. Criticize the CDC and the NYT—or hold the president of Harvard to normal standards of scholarship—and you are aligned with Donald Trump and Hitler.

This problem of fake scholarship in elite academia goes back many decades, and has been proven repeatedly.

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal sent an article to a mainline liberal-arts journal called “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.”

It argued that “an external world whose properties are independent of any individual human being” was “dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook.”

As a replacement, we need “emancipatory mathematics” and “liberatory science” to reject “the elite caste canon of ‘high science’” that believes in myths like “physical reality.”

You get the drift. It was approved and published. Then the author revealed that he was just making it all up, writing the most preposterous gibberish he could dream up.

That was 30 years ago, and the hoax has been repeated again recently.

The Substack account called “A Midwestern Doctor” recently wrote:

“One of the saddest discoveries genuine intellectuals make once they enter academia (which is supposed to be their ‘home’) is that much of the ‘prestigious knowledge’ their institutions produce is actually just simple or nonsensical concepts cloaked in elaborate rhetoric [language] that makes their points appear to be something much more impressive.”

“For example, the ‘postmodernist’ discourse is pervasive throughout academia and frequently the standard you are expected to measure up to. Yet, in 1996, a programmer from Monash University realized that if he used an existing engine designed to generate random text from recursive grammars, he could generate postmodern essays which appeared to be authentic.

In essence, this meant that complete nonsense (as the text was random) could be passed off as authoritative and credible simply because it matched the expected appearance of this hard to understand writing.”

He concludes:

“If we want to reclaim our Democracy, it is critical we allow open and honest debate to occur. As the last few years have shown, we cannot have the ‘expert’s’ narrative be shielded from all scrutiny, and as the internet has shown, the monopoly they used to hold over the truth is rapidly fading away. Conversely, I believe if the experts wish to regain the credibility they have lost, they must earn it by publicly defending the merits of their positions, and I believe as time moves forward, the expert class will soon realize this too.”

This isn’t just a problem in liberal arts. Science itself has been seriously compromised throughout the COVID years, when people from statistical and medical departments grabbed hold of the chance to crank out an amazing number of papers on COVID (I’ve seen numbers in the six figures). It was all for purposes of resume padding and career advancement.

For two years now, many of these papers on government controls, masks, and the supposed effectiveness of masks, even those cited and celebrated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been proven to be deeply compromised and even fraudulent. Hardly a day goes by without a new discovery of bad or faked data or poor study structure. Some have been retracted but most survived.

It’s really too easy to chalk up the Claudine Gay situation to DEI, or what we used to call affirmative action, though that clearly plays a role here. The problem is actually more pervasive and affects the whole of elite intellectual circles. Many in these realms have institutionalized what a regular person would call corruption: a wink and a nod toward academic fakery simply because the practice is so pervasive and deeply baked into the process of career advancement.

One reason that DEI recently took hold of academia so ferociously is that intellectual standards had long ago slipped to nothing, and corruption had already taken the place of the sincere search for and teaching of truth. Once that was gone, whole institutions came around to embracing fakery, fraud, plagiarism, political favoritism, and outright and brazen hoaxes as just the way business is done.

Indeed, in deeply corrupt institutions, there is simply no way to make it to the top without participating in the corruption. This was how it worked in the Soviet Union. Because the moral compromise is so pervasive, the only way you could be trusted with real power is if others in power have something on you. That’s when corruption becomes thoroughly endemic. Corruption becomes the currency of institutional advancement. Staying clean and doing good work causes you to sink further and further: loser!

This is where we are today with elite academia. It’s not just Claudine Gay, who, incidentally, has already returned to her position on the faculty to take in $900K per year. It’s everywhere in the leadership at all levels. This is why revelations of her plagiarism were a shock to no one. Now we are in a situation where thousands of administrators and faculty are sitting ducks, just awaiting the dreaded moment in which some intrepid researcher compares one published work with another.

In the meantime, they will all keep covering up for each other and trying to keep the racket going on for as long as possible. The difference now is that the public has caught on. Harvard’s applications are in freefall. This extends to the whole of elite academia too. Once their credibility with the public is gone, there is no turning back. Somehow it all seems fitting for an age when the loss of trust is bringing absolutely every feature of elite presence in our lives into question.

In college and having finished a class paper much earlier than everyone else, the professor assigned me the task of finding plagiarism in other student papers. I spent several days at the library. I easily discovered that about 40 percent of the papers were compromised. This was long before the internet, so I can imagine the situation is much worse now. These students weren’t reporting what they knew; they were merely faking it. What the students did back then is what faculty do now.

Faking it: that’s a good description of a problem that is pervasive in elite intellectual circles today. This affects media, corporate empires, academia, and government. It’s so accepted that one is considered meritorious for doing a better job of faking than anyone else. That’s a chilling reality but one that anyone and everyone with experience in these realms knows to be true.

This article was first published in The Epoch Times

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Founder and President of the Brownstone Institute and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and ten books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics at The Epoch Times, and speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.