(The third story regarding plagiarism by a Harvard scholar to arise in the past two years involves Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree. The story broke on the law school's own website in early September. Here, unedited, is the summary of our news coverage of the Ogletree story e-mailed on September 16, 2004, for the benefit of those who are interested in this story who did not receive that e-mail.)
OGLETREE NEWS ARCHIVE
16 SEPTEMBER 2004
For the most important coverage of the latest Harvard plagiarism scandal, involving Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree's plagiarism of Yale law professor Jack Balkin in a recent book, and the ghostwriting of that book by Ogletree's students, see (in chronological order):
September 3, Harvard Law School website:
(Ogletree statement announcing "corrections" of "errors" and "mistakes" that were made in his book, which were "avoidable and preventable")
September 9 "Boston Globe":
http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2004/09/09/ogletree_admits_lifted_passages?mode=PF (Marcella Bombardieri and David Mehegan) (quoting former Harvard president Derek Bok, who was appointed by the law school dean to investigate, and who concluded that because Ogletree faced "a very tight deadline" on the book he "marshaled his assistants and parceled out the work" on the book)
September 9, "Copyfight" (weblog)
(Donna Wentworth) ("If this were Capitol Hill, a PR professional might have advised Professor Ogletree to announce that ‘mistakes were made,’ so as to spread responsibility. I would say that ‘books were written’ – and that spreading responsibility in this instance is the only honest thing to do.")
September 9, "Legal Theory Blog" (weblog of law professor Lawrence Solum, Harvard Law School J.D. 1984; editor of Law Review)
("In some ways the most distressing aspect of the story is the way that it seems to take for granted the practice of publishing research assistant’s work as one’s own without explicit sharing of authorship credit – a practice that is, in my mind, quite dubious.")
September 10 "Weekly Standard" (published online September 10; September 20 print issue):
(Joseph Bottum) ("Ogletree didn't plan to write All Deliberate Speed in the first place. His graduate assistants cobbled it together for him from other sources -- and, as Ogletree puts it, 'I was negligent in not overseeing more carefully the final product that carries my name.' That's a curious construction, but it seems correct, in the end. Surely we reserve the term 'authors' for people who write books -- not people who create 'final products that carry their name.' ... When did this become the way that a Harvard faculty member produces a book? … I find the pseudo-production of All Deliberate Speed [most] disturbing. Ogletree's assistants pasted together material from other books, then swept through the assembled text rewriting, editing, paraphrasing, and summarizing as they went. They got caught because they missed a passage, but what's wrong isn't the part they missed. It's the whole procedure. ... [B]y every explanation, Ogletree conceived much of the book as a kind of double plagiarism: He set out to put his name on work done by his assistants, who, he knew, were merely rephrasing work written by other people. That is not a book. It is, at the least, tenure-revoking ghostwriting. Why hasn't Harvard, which has known about this for months, done something about Charles Ogletree?")
September 10 "Velvel on National Affairs" (law school Dean Lawrence Velvel’s weblog)
September 10 "Velvel on National Affairs" (law school Dean Lawrence Velvel’s weblog)
"I read and enjoyed [Ogletree’s] book earlier this year, but am going to say here some very harsh things about Ogletree’s plagiarism and what it represents. ... [T]he entire incident further stimulates longstanding concern about, and may in fact reflect, forms of corrupt conduct that have become pervasive in America today. ... The incident implicates possible dishonest conduct (wholly aside from advertent or inadvertent plagiarism). It portrays lack of diligence and competence. And it illustrates that rewards accrue to the celebrified, not to the honest and competent. ...
"What [Ogletree’s] two assistants were doing sounds awfully much as if they were writing the book or at least some parts of it. Isn’t that what it means when someone inserts material, researches it, reviews it and edits it before sending it to the publisher, and then does send it to the publisher? ... So how much of this book did assistants insert, review, research, summarize and send to the publisher? How much, if any, of the rest of the book, in other words, was defacto written by someone other than Ogletree, although only Ogletree’s name appears as the author? ...
"Ogletree is a man sufficiently brilliant that he is a professor at the Harvard Law School. Yet he read a draft of his own book so sloppily, so carelessly, that even though the six paragraphs in question are two and one-half pages and 824 words long, and even though they introduce an obviously significant chapter which itself begins an entire section of his book, he did not realize that he himself had not written those paragraphs? A man of his acumen didn’t realize that? Boy, that must have been some sloppy reading! It must have been a reading that was neither diligent nor competent, two qualities vastly lacking in America today. ...
"But beyond the issues of diligence and competence implicated by Ogletree’s statements, additional questions are also raised by what is said to have happened. Ogletree says the mistake happened in "the final editing process." So let me get this straight: in the "final editing process" ..., assistants ... were finalizing and adding significant chunks of material? And not just any material, but material that introduced a chapter which itself was the initial part of a section of the book? This was being done by assistants? In the final editing process? Doesn’t all this raise the question of who the hell really wrote this book which, or at least wrote portions of this book which, in Ogletree’s words, "carries my name." Doesn’t it raise, that is, the very same issue of honesty discussed earlier?
"Moreover, doesn’t the same question of who really wrote portions of the book arise from what may be very clever wording in Ogletree’s web posting? Ogletree doesn’t say "When I reviewed the revised draft, I did not realize that I was not the author of this material." Such a statement would of course imply that he was the author of the rest of the material in the book. But rather than say that, Ogletree said "When I reviewed the revised draft I did not realize that this material was authored by Professor Balkin." ... Well, how in hell was Ogletree supposed to know that Balkin authored the material (unless Ogletree is claiming that he read Balkin’s book and has a near photographic memory)? Ogletree’s wording smacks of being too clever by half. It smacks of wanting to cover up the fact that he knew and expected that parts of his book were written by others -- by assistants -- and that the problem here was that he assumed the six paragraphs had been written by an assistant while being unaware that they had actually been written by someone wholly unconnected with him. I cannot say whether this logic is true in fact, but it is certainly plausible, and it further stokes the question of who did write portions of this book."
(commentary on Dean Velvel’s post by Michael Parenti, Ph.D in political science, Yale University) ("There is another critique one might suggest about the Ogletree case: his explanation is totally lacking in credibility. ... What do the assistants have to say about this? Which assistants? Did they really just stick a long selection from Balkin onto the opening of this crucial chapter with only a citation and without proper indentation or quotation marks? And how did the citation get removed? Why would ‘the pressure of meeting a deadline’ (what crap, as if this were a live network show about to go on the air in 10 seconds) cause the second assistant to delete the Balkin citation? ... Why would deadline pressure make you start deleting your endnotes? It seems to me that until we hear from the assistants we cannot conclude for certain that (a) Ogletree has other people write his stuff for him, or (b) that Ogletree’s story is just a smokescreen, a way of distancing himself from the fact that he plagiarized Balkin. But I am inclined toward (b) because his explanation sounds like just so much dissembling.")
September 10, "In the Right Direction" (weblog of Keith Urbahn, sophomore at Yale)
("Editing mistakes? Whether intentional or not, ‘lifting a passage’ is called plagiarism. Too bad the AP and The Boston Globe don’t have the guts to call it that.")
see also comment by "THB," at
("After the Cornel West incident, there is no way Larry Summers is going call a prominent African-American faculty member on the carpet. This is an opportune moment for another famous university to work the back channel and ‘lure’ Ogletree away. The bigger issue is how not only the teaching but the writing done at major universities is often the work of graduate students. Ogletree – and many other Harvard profs – will continue to garner seven-figure advances for putting their names on books written by others. The grad student who is responsible for not writing and proofreading Ogletree’s book carefully enough is dead professionally. I’ll bet Ogletree’s assistants are desparately trying to shift blame to each other right now.")
September 11, "Boston Globe": http://www.boston.com/ae/books/articles/2004/09/11/concerns_raised_over_use_of_research_assistants
(David Mehegan) (interpreting the statement released by Ogletree (after attempts to reach him were unsuccessful) as stating "he had read over the Balkin text" contained in the draft of his own book "and hadn't realized it was not his own writing"; quoting Columbia University provost: "it is inconceivable to me that I would ever allow a research assistant to alter a manuscript")
September 12, "Airing of Grievances" (weblog)
("Jackie Chiles") ("Oops! Professor Charles Ogletree has released a statement apologizing for plagiarism in his recently released book ‘All Deliberate Speed.’ According to Ogletree, the ‘errors were avoidable and preventable, and I take full and complete responsibility for all of them.’ Despite taking such responsibility, in the very next paragraph he lays the blame pretty squarely on his two research assistants. Honorable stuff. In any event, a very unfortunate turn of events for The Tree. All that work to establish your good name and then just like that it’s significantly tarnished. ... When I first heard the news I thought, ‘Wow, sucks to be those research assistants, they really did this man a disservice.’ But then I passed the news onto Mama Chiles, a retired English Professor, and she said, ‘No excuses. Totally unacceptable. That’s what so many of these people do. Overwhelm their assistants and take all the credit for themselves. This time he got his just dues.’")
September 13, "Harvard Crimson":
(Stephen M. Marks) (reporting "Ogletree told The Crimson that he had not read the passage of Balkin's book that appears in his own work"; reporting "Ogletree said he was closely involved in most of the drafting of the book"; quoting e-mail from Ogletree research assistant apparently threatening libel suit if there is "any speculation that anyone knew of the repetition of Professor Balkin's material beforehand").
September 13, "Harvard Crimson":
(editorial, "What Academia is Hiding") ("For every Harvard student, the charge of plagiarism could prove fatal to one’s undergraduate career. From the outset, students are forewarned of the College’s daunting zero-tolerance discipline policy; that is, whether inadvertent or otherwise, according to the student handbook, plagiarism of any sort ‘will ordinarily result in disciplinary action, including but not limited to requirement to withdraw from the College.’ But it seems that this stringent policy – aimed to ensure sincere and scrupulous scholarship – does not extent to members of Harvard’s Faculty. ... Last week, Ogletree admitted that six paragraphs of his book – nearly two pages of text – had been lifted from the work of Yale Law School professor Jack M. Balkin, after the latter author was anonymously informed that Ogletree’s work should be investigated. ... Ogletree maintains that the text’s inclusion was an oversight due, in part, to strict deadlines and a strong reliance on research assistants. Neither defense is excusable. ... Ogletree’s transgression is a serious one – one that would likely result in expulsion for a Harvard undergraduate. That Ogletree will not face anything remotely this severe reveals the glaring disparity in Harvard’s plagiarism policies – and the different scholarly standards it holds for its students and Faculty. ... [Ogletree’s transgression] not only leaves a blemish on the renowned professor’s resume and reveals a ludicrous double standard, it is also indicative of an alarming trend currently threatening the legitimacy of the work of those in academia; that is, the extensive use of research assistants and students .... When the author himself does not recognize that a text of two pages is not his own, something is amiss. ... The bottom line remains that had a Harvard student committed such a grievous error, intentionally or not, the College would likely turn a deaf ear to any excuses – particularly any that involve an over-reliance on paid assistants to do their research and writing for them. If Harvard is not willing to hold its Faculty to the same high scholarly standards as it does its students, then perhaps it should rethink its undergraduate plagiarism policy and do away with the charade of irreproachable academic integrity.")
September 13, "The Volokh Conspiracy"
("Juan Non-Volokh") ("Prof Ogletree 'did not realize it was not his material'? Does this mean he did not realize the words were not his own -— in which case his research assistants were taking liberties with his manuscript -— or did he simply not realize it was the work of someone other than his research assistants. If the latter, which I believe is the more likely reading of the above, then Ogletree did plan to publish the words of others under his own name. ... [I]s this the appropriate standard of scholarship for a tenured law professor? At Harvard? Perhaps I have an old fashioned perspective on these sorts of things, but I am disturbed by the idea of tenured professors at prestigious institutions using research assistants to draft portions of their scholarly work.").
September 14, "The Buck Stops Here" (Weblog of Stuart Buck, Harvard Law School J.D. 2000; editor of Law Review)
("the problem that Bottum [author of the Weekly Standard article] identifies is real, quite apart from the plagiarism involved. … [F]or scholars, the act of producing their own scholarly work is one of the two main responsibilities of their jobs (the other being teaching). When a scholar at a university puts his name to a book or article, no one thinks (or ought to be justified in thinking), ‘Well, he's awfully busy, and he's probably just putting out words that someone else wrote; but at least he agrees with what other people have written for him.’")
September 14, "Velvel on National Affairs" (law school Dean Lawrence Velvel’s weblog)
(commentary on Dean Velvel’s post by Professor Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard Law School, a friend and colleague of Ogletree) (declining to defend Ogletree on the specifics of his plagiarism of Balkin and his use of ghostwriters, stating: "I don’t see it as my place either to offer excuses for my colleagues’ and friends’ missteps or to pile on them when the world is already heaping calumny upon them"; also expressing his agreement with Dean Velvel’s assessment of the importance of the systemic issues for academia raised by the ghostwriting issue, stating: "As to the larger problem you describe – the problem of writers ... passing off work of others as their own – I think you’re focusing on a phenomenon of some significance.")
September 14, "Rasmusen’s Not-Politics Weblog" (weblog of Eric Rasmusen, Ph.D, economics professor, Indiana University)
("Via Volokh, The Weekly Standard tells us that Prof. Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law doesn’t even read what’s published under his own name, assembled by his research assistants. ... It looks like affirmative action strikes again, in this case aided perhaps by the bad influence of judges who rely on clerks. Or maybe Ogletree has spent time in government, where one of the rules for top bureaucrats is, ‘Never write anything you sign and never sign anything you write.’ Academia is not like that, so Harvard should bounce him down to Washington.")
September 14, "The Baseball Crank" (weblog)
("Juan non-Volokh notes a slap on the wrist for plagiarism on the part of Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree; apparently his research assistants slapped a chunk of some work from Jack Balkin into a book Ogletree was doing on the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Joseph Bottum of The Weekly Standard is appalled that having your research assistants cobble together other people’s ideas on the central area of your expertise is considered scholarship.")
September 14, "Point of Law" (weblog)
(Walter Olson) ("Exploiting others’ labor, indeed. It turns out Harvard Law School’s Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., high oracle of the reparations litigation movement, grabs great chunks of other people’s writing and passes it off as his own.")
September 14, "The Corner on National Review Online" (weblog)
(Roger Clegg, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division) ("HARVARD LAW SCHOOL’S JAYSON BLAIR? Eye-opening item in the current issue of the Weekly Standard about how Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree ‘inadvertently,’ ‘under pressure of a deadline,’ copied out of one book on Brown v. Board of Education into his own book on Brown. Except it’s really much worse than that: Ogletree wasn’t even writing the book he authored – he was having his assistants write it, or, rather, he was having them copy and then paraphrase the work of other authors.")
September 14, "The Volokh Conspiracy"
(Fabio Rojas, Ph.D, University of Chicago, 2003) ("During grad school, I discovered ... that a lot of scholars are "Bureaucrats" .... This kind of scholar is more like an architect – he designs the overall project, but an army of helpers puts together the final project. ... [N]ow I realize a lot of famous names only produce their quantity because they rely to heavily on assistants. I was shocked to find out that a legal scholar whose work I respect writes a fairly small amount of his later work. He often hires brilliant grad/law students to do most of the leg work and then he assembles the products into his larger manuscripts. It's simply impossible to write a book every other year, fly around the world, teach classes, be a consultant and satisfy your university service requirements without a lot of help. Given that's a path to success, I'm not surprised that the work becomes sloppy very quickly. Scholars barely have time to closely monitor every product they produce. Not every highly productive scholar is that way, but more of them operate that way than we'd admit.")
For a somewhat provocative thought experiment offered by a college English professor who was struck by Ogletree's self-professed inability to recognize that the three pages he plagiarized from Jack Balkin were not his own writing, see: http://margaretsoltan.phenominet.com/archives/2004_09_01_archive.html#109490106956764192
(post of 9/11, 7:08 a.m.)
For a discussion of the systemic issues for universities raised by the Ogletree story, see "Plagiarism, a Misplaced Emphasis," by Brian Martin, Ph.D, published in the Journal of Information Ethics, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 1994, pp. 36-47, and reprinted here:
http://www.uow.edu.au/arts/sts/bmartin/pubs/94jie.html (pointing out the need to focus on "the vast amount of institutional plagiarism, including ghostwriting and attribution of authorship to bureaucratic elites," and the importance of "exposing and challenging the institutionalized varieties" of plagiarism)
For other coverage of the Ogletree story see
The law school dean has not yet issued a statement on this matter, nor evidently granted any interviews. Thus there is not yet any explanation or defense from her of the handling of the investigation into Ogletree’s plagiarism, particularly regarding the five-month delay in announcing anything about it during which Ogletree was allowed to attend commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and go on television, to actively promote his book, pretending it was solely his work. Compare the dean’s cooperation with press inquiries into seemingly less vital issues such as interior decorating, even as recently as September 16, thirteen days after news of Ogletree’s plagiarism finally broke:
The Ogletree plagiarism (both the lifting of the pages from Balkin’s book, and the more fundamental plagiarism of Ogletree taking credit for work written by law students) occurred even after extensive coverage of the past two Harvard plagiarism scandals, suggesting the reaction to those two scandals has been insufficient to deter Harvard scholars from engaging in scholarly misconduct that would force the withdrawal of a student.
[cc] (see http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/cc/cc.html;