While Canadians may be familiar with the controversies surrounding now former Harvard University president Claudine Gay, they may not be aware that a Canadian journalist played a crucial role in exposing the plagiarism allegations that contributed to her downfall.
Gay resigned from her prestigious position on Jan. 2, 2024, amid blowback from a congressional testimony where she refused to say that calling for the genocide of Jews violated Harvard’s policies, and amid being accused of plagiarism.
Christopher Brunet, a Canadian writer currently working as a contributing editor at The American Conservative, was behind the first reports on Gay and her alleged plagiarism that received international attention.
True North caught up with Brunet – who is currently living in Romania amid having left Canada during the pandemic, in part due to government-imposed mandates and restrictions.
From academia to journalism:
An economist by trade, Brunet entered the media scene in 2020 after he spoke out in defense of a University of Chicago professor he was working at the institution. The professor in question, Harald Uhlig, was being attacked by progressives for criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Brunet told True North his defence of Uhlig led to him getting reprisals of his own – leading him to begin writing about problems in academia on Substack.
“I started writing angrily on Substack,” he said. “I was writing about corruption in economics or in academia… I leveraged that Substack writing into a job at the Daily Caller, then I went from the Daily Caller back to Substack, then I went from Substack to The American Conservative, where I currently am.”
The case of Claudine Gay:
It’s important to note that Brunet had been on Gay’s case prior to the post-Oct. 7 controversies.
On April 17, 2022, Brunet published an article titled The Curious Case of Claudine Gay, in which he expressed some questions and concerns about her conduct as the then Dean of Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and how she ended up in the position in the first place.
“A lot of her shortcomings became immediately obvious to me. You can kind of just look at her CV and tell that she’s not good enough for Harvard.” said Burnet.
Many have since accused Gay of being a “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI) hire. That accusation was hardened by reports that the Harvard search committee was only considering presidential candidates that met DEI criteria.
The fallout following Gay’s testimony:
It was only after Gay’s explosive testimony in front of Congress, that Brunet’s initial reporting on her began to pick up steam.
“I wrote my article, A Curious Case of Clutting Gay, and nobody cared. It had no impact (at the time),” he noted. “Two years later, it got like hundreds of thousands of views and raised thousands of dollars for me.”
“It really gave me a lot of credibility because people can see the date on the article and they can say, ‘oh he wrote this two years ago.’ It wasn’t like just a dog pile-on in the moment.”
In the days following the testimony, Brunet received a tip off from someone who had compiled cases of suspected plagiarism against Gay. “It was handed to me on a silver platter,” said Brunet.
Brunet decided to reach out to Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow and director of the initiative on critical race theory at the Manhattan Institute – who has become a prominent anti-DEI voice. Rufo helped Brunet make the allegations against Gay go viral.
“I didn’t need to bring it to Chris Rufo. I guess I could have reported it myself,” noted Brunet. “But he’s kind of a master at getting, shaping the narrative and bringing attention to a story. And so I think that was a really good choice in retrospect.”
“He blew up the story, and I couldn’t have done it without him.”
The impacts of Brunet’s reporting:
Brunet told True North that at first, even with Rufo’s help, he was not certain that the allegations would be consequential enough to bring down Gay.
“I was a little bit sheepish almost because I was like, ‘I’m not sure if this is enough to bring her down.’ It was plagiarism, but it was like a few examples of it. And it wasn’t like the worst plagiarism in the world.”
But then, things changed, as more outlets began reporting on the controversy, and more allegations came out.
“We got really, really lucky because right as soon as we reported it, the Washington Free Beacon reported on it and then the New York Post and then another guy on Twitter and then the Free Beacon again,” noted Brunet.
“We got the ball rolling.”
In the end, almost 50 allegations of plagiarism were levelled against Gay – who ended up resigning as president of Harvard University.
Accusations of Racism:
“For me, this was just like another case of research misconduct. I mean, it didn’t really matter who she was. It’s just the fact that she was guilty.”
He added that such allegations were however “just predictable” in today’s society.
What’s next for Brunet?
While Claudine Gay is no longer at the helm of Harvard, Brunet plans to continue writing about the university. He tells True North he has a few projects in the works, citing a surprisingly large interest in the affair.
“I’ve written lots of stories about Harvard in my career, too many to count,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest in this topic in general.”