ACTA in the News | Governance

Elise Stefanik rips Harvard after school hired ex-board leader and professor’s law firm to probe ousted prez Claudine Gay

NEW YORK POST   |  January 26, 2024 by Isabel Vincent

A new report to Congress confirms that after The Post reached out to Harvard University about plagiarism allegations against its former president last year, the Ivy League school’s board retained a powerful law firm — where a longtime leader of the board is a senior partner.

William Lee, a partner at WilmerHale, was, until June 2022, the Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation.

Despite stepping down from the Harvard Corporation in 2022, Lee, who is also a law professor at the school, “has continued to exert significant influence among Harvard’s top leadership, including senior administrators, members of the Corporation and his successor Senior Fellow Penny Pritzker,” according to the Harvard Crimson.

A prominent law professor, who declined to be named, criticized Harvard’s choice to retain Lee’s firm, telling The Post that “it does not satisfy the appearance of justice,” because Lee’s role at the university gave his firm “a tremendous advantage. He’s a major figure in the law firm and was a major figure in the corporation.”

“There was no conflict,” Lee told The Post.

But that doesn’t satisfy New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

“The Harvard Corporation actively worked to cover up the negligence and failures of Harvard University, doubling down in defense of its corrupt leadership,” Stefanik told The Post in a statement. “In fact, instead of protecting Jewish students and removing Claudine Gay, former Harvard Corporation Board senior fellow William Lee lined the pockets of his law firm WilmerHale, [hired] to defend the former Harvard President’s history of serial plagiarism and antisemitism. A reckoning is occurring; our robust congressional investigation will continue to expose the institutional problems plaguing our most ‘elite colleges and universities and deliver needed accountability to the American people.”

Neither Lee nor a spokesperson for WilmerHale responded to a question from The Post about whether or not the firm was paid when, as the report said, “retained … in connection with these [plagiarism] allegations.”

According to an April 2022 article on his firm’s web site, Lee was “instrumental in the university’s past two presidential searches.” He clarified to The Post that it was a reference to past Harvard presidents “Drew Faust and Larry Bacow. I was not involved in the most recent search.”

Lee, 74, was personally involved, along with another lawyer from his firm, in preparing Gay before her disastrous testimony — led by Stefanik —about campus antisemitism to Congress last month. Earlier this month, the embattled president, who faced multiple allegations of plagiarism, resigned.

“Harvard is playing games with everyone,” said Carol Swain, a former political science professor at Vanderbilt University and acclaimed African American scholar who has accused Gay of plagiarizing her work. “This is how they responded every step of the way.”

Swain said her attorney sent the Harvard Corporation a letter on Jan. 3, requesting to know what “remedies” the Ivy League institution seeks to make for the unauthorized use of her work. Swain told The Post Wednesday that she has not heard back from the school’s governing body.

“I don’t intend to abandon this issue,” she said. “It’s deeply disturbing that Harvard University can ignore its own academic guidelines — rules that the rest of us are expected to follow.”

In its six-page report to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce made public last week, the Harvard Corporation admitted that “we understand and acknowledge that many viewed our efforts as insufficiently transparent, raising questions regarding our process and standard of review.”

The Corporation appointed a subcommittee of four fellows, who then named a review panel of “three of the country’s most prominent political scientists” to conduct the review of Gay’s work, the letter said. The corporation refused to name the three scholars, citing their own desire to remain anonymous.

“They’re anonymous because they knew what they were doing was bogus,” said Swain. “They should have been willing to put their name on it. It’s clearly someone who wants something from Harvard and is afraid.”

The Corporation made all of these moves following questions from The Post in October over more than two dozen alleged instances of plagiarism by Gay. Three days after The Post submitted questions to the school’s public relations office on Oct. 24, we received a threatening 15-page letter that said in part that the allegations against Gay were “demonstrably false” even before the Corporation had embarked on its own investigation.

Now a watchdog group is demanding that an accreditation institution probe Harvard University over its handling of the plagiarism allegations against Gay — a move that could determine if the Ivy League school continues to receive hundreds of millions in federal funding, The Post has learned.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington, DC-based non-profit, sent a formal complaint earlier this month to the New England Commission of Higher Education, a group that has been accrediting universities for the Department of Education since its founding in 1885.

A spokesman for the Harvard Corporation declined comment.

This post appeared on New York Post on January 26, 2024.


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