Harvard Plagiarism Archive

"[T]he problem of writers . . . passing off the work of others as their own . . . [is] a phenomenon of some significance."
PROFESSOR LAURENCE TRIBE, e-mail to Dean Lawrence Velvel, 9/13/2004

"'I . . . delegated too much responsibility to others . . .,' [Prof. Charles Ogletree] said. 'I was negligent
in not overseeing more carefully the final product that carries my name.' * * * Ogletree told The Crimson that
he had not read the passage of Balkin’s book that appears in his own work. An assistant inserted the material
into a manuscript . . . . But Ogletree said he was closely involved in most of the drafting of the book . . . ."

STEVEN MARKS, "Ogletree Faces Discipline for Copying Text," The Harvard Crimson, 9/13/2004

"'Ronald Klain . . . then only a first-year student at Harvard law . . . spent most of his time with
Tribe working on Tribe's [1985] book God Save This Honorable Court,'" the Legal Times added in 1993.
* * * 'Many of Klain's friends and former colleagues say that he wrote large sections of the book . . . .'"

JOSEPH BOTTUM, "The Big Mahatma," The Weekly Standard, 10/4/2004

"[A]fter several plagiarism scandals broke over distinguished faculty members at Harvard's law school, including
Laurence Tribe,a group of students there set up a blog, Harvard Plagiarism Archive, to follow the University's
handling of the problem. They believe that the University, President Summers, and Dean Elena Kagan
essentially white-washed the scandal and are demanding further action.

PROF. RALPH LUKER, History News Network's "Cliopatria" blog,4/26/2005

“The Tribe and Ogletree matters have catalyzed bitter complaints from Harvard students that the university
employs a double standard. . . . The students have every right to be incensed over this gross double standard.
They in fact ought to raise hell peacefully about it: a constant barrage of letters, emails, statements . . . .”

DEAN LAWRENCE VELVEL, "Velvel on National Affairs" blog, 4/28/2005

"If you want to keep track of this story, I recommend the new Harvard Plagiarism Archive. . . . [I]t's pretty thorough."
TIMOTHY NOAH, Slate's "Chatterbox" blog,9/28/2004

"[Y]ou have done a wonderful service to all by operating the AuthorSkeptics website . . . a fine public service."
DEAN LAWRENCE VELVEL, author of "Velvel on National Affairs," e-mail to AuthorSkeptics, 4/19/2005

Sunday, September 26, 2004


(The fourth plagiarism story involving a Harvard scholar during the past two years involves Professor Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School. The story was broken by the Weekly Standard on September 24. Below is the text of the final e-mail we sent out on September 25 just prior to setting up this blog, of our "HARVARD PLAGIARISM UPDATE," Revision 4.3. In it we discussed the Weekly Standard story and also announced we were adopting the suggestion of a Harvard Law School student that we change our name from "OgletreeSkeptics" to "AuthorSkeptics," to avoid undue focus on Professor Ogletree or for that matter any other particular professor, and to encourage more of a focus on the important institutional issues posed by these stories.)

"OgletreeSkeptics" changed to "AuthorSkeptics";
Weekly Standard story on Professor Tribe

This is to inform the Harvard campus newspapers and everyone else being blind copied on this e-mail who in the past have received one or more of our HARVARD PLAGIARISM updates that in response to an excellent suggestion in a post by a Harvard Law School student, Jeremy Blachman (see here: http://jeremyblachman.blogspot.com/2004/09/i-have-opinion-on-real-issue-of-some.html), prompted in part by a new Weekly Standard story alleging scholarly misconduct by Professor Tribe (see here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/004/674eijco.asp), we have changed the name under which we will send out any further updates.

Instead of "OgletreeSkeptics" the name is now "AuthorSkeptics." Our e-mail address is now AuthorSkeptics@hotmail.com." Our news summaries will no longer be called "Ogletree News Archive." They will be called "Harvard Plagiarism Archive."

We should make clear this suggestion, though welcome, was unsolicited. Neither Mr. Blachman nor anyone on the Harvard Law School Record has had any connection to "OgletreeSkeptics."

We are making this change because Mr. Blachman’s comments show the name we chose for sending out our e-mails risks misunderstanding. Mr. Blachman credits us for helping bring some attention to plagiarism issues at Harvard but says, "I think OgletreeSkeptics ought to change its name to AuthorSkeptics and instead of trying to create some momentum around attacking Ogletree, perhaps create some momentum around trying to change the way the industry works, if this is the way the industry works."

We found the following analysis by Mr. Blachman, which is deserving of quotation and discussion, persuasive to our decision to change our name so as to not to seem to unfairly target Professor Ogletree in the process of addressing the broad institutional issues implicated by the stories addressing possible scholarly misconduct at Harvard. Mr. Blachman writes:
"I feel bad for Prof. Ogletree. ... I feel bad for him because the sense I get is that what he did is something everyone does, and he just got unlucky enough to have research assistants who accidentally messed up and screwed him over. This is bad for academia; it says bad things about the way people write books today.... I think [Dean] Velvel is right that Ogletree's assistants probably did a substantial deal more than assistants might do in a world with the highest standards of honesty and integrity. But I think Velvel's wrong to say that it means ... Ogletree wasn't competent and diligent without saying that it probably means everyone else isn't competent and diligent either, and Ogletree just got unlucky.

"And here's the problem I see: whether or not I'm right about this being a problem throughout academia and the larger world beyond it, it's not an unreasonable conclusion to draw. And what this means is that if there are professors acting with integrity, and having research assistants assist with research instead of actually writing their books, they get hurt by the implication that there's dishonest stuff going on everywhere. So people start to doubt even the ‘good eggs,’ and their reputations get hurt. This is bad. This is bad because it'll encourage people who are acting with integrity now to stop acting with integrity, because everyone's going to assume they aren't anyway, so why not cut corners?"
Mr. Blachman’s comments are well-meaning and constructive and have led us to adopt the name he has suggested, which is an excellent one. However, to clarify, our point never has been to focus on Professor Ogletree’s plagiarism, or on Professor Ogletree personally. We picked the first part of "OgletreeSkeptics" because Professor Ogletree was the third and latest Harvard scholar accused of plagiarism in the past two years. So it was topical, and we decided to include his name, even though our e-mails summarized coverage of all three plagiarism stories. As explained in Revision 4.2 (dated 23 September 2004), we picked the second part based on a news article describing a prominent Harvard Law School professor as one of "the Summers skeptics." We thought if a law professor can be a "skeptic" of the Harvard president, we can and should say we are "skeptics" of Ogletree, and of other Harvard scholars who commit plagiarism and of the Harvard administration that applies a double standard to them, conducting less investigation and imposing less discipline than if a Harvard student were involved.

Plus, the overall name was appropriate because one of our main complaints was about Professor Ogletree’s failure to be forthright about how his book was written. For that reason we were skeptical of him. On the Friday of Labor Day Weekend he posted on a website a brief and puzzling statement that seemed to go out of its way to avoid key details about how his book was written for him by others. Then he apparently declined all interviews except for one conducted by a Harvard undergraduate reporting for the school newspaper. Also, to date the dean has not commented. We believe it is right to be skeptical of such PR tactics, especially the failure by the Harvard administration to acknowledge that a student who did what Ogletree admits having done would be severely disciplined and thus its failure to acknowledge a double standard at Harvard for plagiarism, even after the Harvard student newspaper published an editorial on this exact point.

Now that a fourth plagiarism story at Harvard has come to light, involving Ogletree’s colleague Professor Laurence H. Tribe, the name "OgletreeSkeptics" seems dated anyway. We picked it because Professor Ogletree’s was the latest plagiarism story and now that is no longer the case. We had half seriously given thought to changing our name on a periodic basis to "______Skeptics," with "______" being the last name of the latest Harvard scholar accused of plagiarism. That would now make it "TribeSkeptics," although with two such cases uncovered in just the last month, adopting that approach might put us at the risk of having to change the name again soon. Some might argue it would be deserved to change the name to "TribeSkeptics," and it would show we are "equal opportunity skeptics." However, it would risk the misperception that Mr. Blachman’s e-mail reflects, that we are somehow seeking to personalize the discussion of what in the end are institutional plagiarism problems at Harvard, and perhaps at other universities.

Plus it would seem unfair to Professor Tribe at least at this point. We sent out e-mails under the "OgletreeSkeptics" name summarizing the plagiarism charges against Professor Ogletree (and Professors Dershowitz and Goodwin) only after he had already admitted wrongdoing and had failed to show candor in his discussion of the wrongdoing. Professor Tribe has not yet had an opportunity to address the Weekly Standard article published only yesterday. We have already received two astonished/irate e-mails concerning the Tribe story from professors who have been kind enough to write us in the past and give us comments and suggestions for improvement, and who we told about the story yesterday evening. We may feature those e-mails, and any others we may receive, in future updates if the professors give their consent to reprint the e-mails.

However, we feel it is premature for those professors, or anyone, to pass judgment on Professor Tribe until he has an opportunity to write to defend himself against the charges in the Weekly Standard article, just as he wrote to defend himself in the pages of the Wall Street Journal on November 13, 1985, in response to the last attack made on this particular book, in a book review by Terry Eastland which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on October 31, 1985. Professor Tribe has a considerable scholarly reputation, and we feel he should be given the benefit of any doubt until he has had an opportunity to address the specifics of the charges. As his Wall Street Journal article shows, Professor Tribe is prompt and direct in responding when his work is attacked, so at least we can expect him to issue a detailed statement and make himself freely available for interviews and not try like Professor Ogletree to issue a brief and puzzling statement and then apparently duck interviews by reporters who seek to pin down details not addressed in the statement and to get out all the facts so people can judge for themselves.

Beyond the issue discussed by Mr. Blachman which caused us to change our name, there is one other issue that can be discussed now, before all the details are in, which we will throw out for what it might be worth. The amount of "borrowing" in Professor Tribe’s book of material from Professor Abraham’s book is at the very least concerning and is something justifying investigation and discussion, however people come out in the end as to whether it is actually "plagiarism," or "plagiaphrasing" (as the Modern Language Association defines it), or some other specific type of scholarly misconduct. The heavy "borrowing," or whatever term is used, is something that has been known about for a long time, and the issue of who actually wrote the book is also something that has been discussed for years. The Weekly Standard article mentions a book review in the Los Angeles Times from February 2, 1986, by political science professor Dennis Mahoney, who stated, "Anyone who cares about the historical background should read Henry Abraham’s ‘Justices and Presidents,’ from which Tribe apparently borrowed most of his examples." As far back as 1993, the Weekly Standard reports, there was news coverage to the effect that much of the book was written for Professor Tribe by a first-year law student, which would tend to explain the heavy "borrowing," although Professor Tribe disputed that claim in 1993. Professor Abraham is quoted in the Weekly Standard article as stating, "I was aware of what Tribe was doing when I first read his book .... But I chose not to do anything at the time. I’ve never confronted him – and I was wrong in not following it up. I should have done something about it. ... [H]e’s a big mahatma and thinks he can get away with this sort of thing."

How many others have known about this for nearly two decades but said nothing? And why did it take recent events at Harvard, and news coverage of them, to spur someone to come forward? The Weekly Standard reports it was only after Professor Tribe commented on a website about the "problem of writers ... passing off the work of others as their own" as being "a phenomenon of some significance" (to read Professor Tribe’s entire post, see here: http://velvelonnationalaffairs.blogspot.com/2004/09/re-ogletree-transgression.html) that a law professor, who if Mahoney and Abraham are any indication knew about this years ago, was moved to contact the Weekly Standard and suggest it "take a look at Tribe’s own God Save This Honorable Court" in case it "wanted to explore" that particular problem.

Why would a law professor do nothing for years and only report on Professor Tribe after he in effect placed a "KICK ME!" sign on his own back by commenting for Dean Velvel’s website about the evils of plagiarism? Only then did the law professor bother to contact a news organization. How many other instances of possible scholarly misconduct either at Harvard or elsewhere are out there but to date have not been examined because those who have committed possible scholarly misconduct have refrained from publicly speaking up about the "problem of writers ... passing off the work of others as their own," and thus have avoided triggering the ire of others in their field with a low tolerance for hypocrisy? This is perhaps something meriting discussion even at this early stage in the story. It is a matter with institutional implications for how scholarly work is done and whether scholars have much to fear in the way of consequences even if other scholars notice their misdeeds. Whether or not there is in effect a "code of silence" among members of academia concerning possible scholarly misconduct, at least possible scholarly misconduct by the "celebrity" professors Dean Velvel derides, has importance far beyond the particular scholars involved in this situation.

[cc] (see http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/cc/cc.html;

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