This post collects the news and blog items which have appeared since our October 3 post. Please e-mail us if you know of anything we've missed.
The items of greatest importance have appeared in two places: on Dean Velvel's blog, and in the Harvard student newspapers. The two most important items are the further responses of Professor Ogletree and Professor Dershowitz to the charges made against then. We continue to have questions about some of what each has said, but they both deserve credit for coming forward and addressing the charges.
No such credit is due Professor Tribe, unfortunately. We are disappointed that even after being attacked in three separate items in the Harvard Law School newspaper (Oct. 7 issue), and being made the butt of a joke by respected federal appellate judge and prolific legal scholar Richard Posner (Oct. 19 presentation at Harvard Law School), Professor Tribe has had nothing to say about the plagiarism charges against him except for the brief, incomplete statement he e-mailed the press on September 26.
Professor Tribe has offered comments to the media on hundreds if not thousands of stories, big and small, since he began teaching. Professor Tribe in the past has regularly written letters to the editor when he believed media coverage of him had been inaccurate or unfair (including a letter to the Wall Street Journal about his 1985 book in which he plagiarized Professor Abraham, as the Weekly Standard article mentioned). Professor Tribe was quite active before September 26 in commenting on the plagiarism stories involving Professors Ogletree and Goodwin (for example, a Boston Globe interview, a letter to the editor of the Harvard Crimson, and an e-mail to Dean Velvel). Professor Tribe has been uncharacteristically silent since September 26 regarding his own plagiarism story.
Unlike Professors Ogletree and Dershowitz, who have each issued detailed statements on how the book at issue was produced and have each granted interviews, Professor Tribe has given no explanation as to how his 1985 book was produced. Professor Tribe has said nothing about the mechanics of the writing process that resulted in the similarities between his book and Professor Abraham's book. In particular Professor Tribe has said nothing about the report in the Weekly Standard article that much of the book was written for him by a first-year law student, making his situation similar to that of Professor Ogletree, who (according to Professor Ogletree and former Harvard president Derek Bok) had law students write much of his book for him. Professor Tribe has not granted any interviews. Professor Tribe has not written any letter to the editor or any e-mail to be posted on a website covering such matters.
Unlike Professors Ogletree and Dershowitz, it seems Professor Tribe's strategy is to say nothing further about the substance of the charges or anything else, and to try to restore his reputation through the use of surrogates who likewise avoid the substance of the charges.
This may be a counterproductive strategy, because people are generally much quicker to excuse the mistakes of those who are candid about exactly what they have done wrong and who do not try to take a vague or ambiguous position. Also, a complete and candid explanation leaves nothing further to inquire into and little basis for further stories, so that attention to the underlying mistakes typically dies down quickly. But perhaps we are wrong, and perhaps Professor Tribe will ultimately benefit from his current avoidance strategy. Still, even if it pays off for him, we expected more from a scholar with his reputation.
If Professor Tribe does not personally comment further in the near future, we will do our best, time permitting, to further pursue the issues related to his use of surrogates and the underlying plagiarism, although we are hopeful professional journalists will be interested in pursuing this story as we would prefer to stick to covering stories that others write. We have been withholding further comment to give Professor Tribe an adequate opportunity to respond, and we will continue doing so for a reasonable time.
Here is a brief summary of the most important posts set out below which are specifically related to the stories on Professors Ogletree, Dershowitz, and Tribe.
Professor Ogletree. On October 4, in his blog Dean Velvel reprinted an e-mail from Professor Ogletree responding to Dean Velvel's criticism of his description of the plagiarism charges against Professor Tribe as being "nonsense," as quoted in The Harvard Crimson on September 27. Professor Ogletree basically states he was misquoted by The Crimson. On October 7, in his blog Dean Velvel reprinted an e-mail from The Crimson whose contents suggest Professor Ogletree's e-mail to Dean Velvel claiming a misquotation was not correct. The Crimson e-mail seems convincing, although it also seems conceivable that Professor Ogletree may be able to set forth an explanation that under whatever circumstances existed, he simply misunderstood what the reporters were asking him. However, no such explanation has yet appeared. There has been no further comment by Professor Ogeltree since October 7. See the discussion under October 4 and October 7, below.
Professor Dershowitz. On October 14, Professor Dershowitz published a letter to the editor in the Harvard Law Record (the law school student newspaper) which makes what appears to be a very solid argument that it is unfair to count him as part of the plagiarism problem at Harvard Law School. See discussion under October 14, below.
Professor Tribe. On October 7, the Harvard Law Record published three items on plagiarism at Harvard critical of Professor Tribe. One was a story on how Professor Tribe's plagiarism was uncovered, due largely to Dean Velvel's weblog, through which Professor Tribe managed to hoist himself by his own petard. The second was an editorial attacking the school's administration for its silence about plagiarism by its faculty. The third was an essay about the new form of citation-free legal scholarship that Professor Tribe is pioneering. The essay, by Harvard Law School student Aaron Houck, purports to praise Professor Tribe for his courage rather than to bury him for his plagiarism. Mr. Houck, we sure hope you don't have any classes with Professor Tribe, or that if you do, the grading is blind!
These three items followed on the heels of posts by irate law students such as Amber Taylor's, such as this one (her earlier posts are also excellent):
See discussion under October 7, below.
Unlike Professor Dershowitz, Professor Tribe did not answer these criticisms by writing a letter to the editor of the Harvard Law Record to give a fuller account of the charges against him, or answer any of the students' criticisms. Nor did he arrange to give an interview to the newspaper. Instead, his apparent response to the negative October 14 articles, and Professor Dershowitz's October 14 example of directly writing a letter to the editor, was an indirect response -- to arrange to have several surrogates submit a letter to the editor of the Harvard Crimson (the undergraduate student newspaper), a letter presumably ghostwritten at least in part by Professor Tribe (which, if that's actually what happened, would be funny if it were not so sad).
On October 18, a letter to the editor was published in the Harvard Crimson by three current or former Tribe student research assistants. That letter minimized Professor Tribe's scholarly offense and urged that Professor Tribe's plagiarism should be considered in the context of his overall scholarly reputation. See discussion under October 18, below.
The next day, to some degree illustrating the damage to Harvard Law School's scholarly reputation that has already been created by the Ogletree and Tribe plagiarism stories, during a Harvard Law School scholarly presentation Judge Posner went out of his way to crack a joke based on the stories. Quite possibly Judge Posner had read the Crimson letter to the editor by Tribe's surrogates and simply could not resist the chance to get in a humorous jab. See discussion under October 19, below.
The joke is especially embarassing to Harvard Law School because of the identity of the speaker. Judge Posner, in addition to being one of the most respected appellate judges in the nation, is apparently the most cited legal scholar alive today. Last year the school awarded Judge Posner its highest scholarly distinction, the Ames Prize, which only 25 people have won in the past century. http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2003/03/07_ames.php. While he was in Cambridge accepting the award, apparently efforts were made to interest Judge Posner in becoming the school's next dean, efforts he rebuffed because, as he stated for the record, he had no interest in the job. http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=346935
Judge Posner is not the only one who has cracked a joke about plagiarism at the expense of Professors Tribe and Ogletree, and Harvard Law School. See, for example, the post of noted law professor and blogger Brian Leiter, who (half seriously?) asked: "Is Harvard Law School the Plagiarism Leader in American Legal Education?" http://webapp.utexas.edu/blogs/bleiter/archives/002116.html. If anyone else knows of other humorous jabs made at Harvard Law School's expense, please let us know and we will include them in future posts. "Comedy is very powerful, and there's no protection against it," Saturday Night Live producer Loren Michaels once observed. If Harvard Law School continues to do nothing about its plagiarism problem, despite a courageous editorial in the October 7 Harvard Law Record by its own students attacking the administration for doing nothing, at least we can join Judge Posner and Professor Leiter in joking about it!
Here, then, are the latest news and blog items, in chronological order:
Oct. 4, 2004
Velvel on National Affairs (Dean Velvel)
"Re: Professor Ogletree's Response"
(This post sets forth Professor Ogletree's e-mail response to Dean Velvel's harsh criticism of Ogletree on September 29 for saying (according to a story in The Harvard Crimson) that the plagiarism charges against Professor Tribe were "nonsense," even though Tribe quickly admitted to them and apologized. In his e-mail, Ogletree denied saying the plagiarism charges themselves were "nonsense," and claimed: "My 'nonsense' response was to the claim Professor Tribe would NOT respond to the charges. He responded the very day that the matter was brought to his attention, as I imagined he would. Nothing else was said or should be implied from my comment." In his post, Velvel urged the parties to "try to clear up what happened," so as hopefully not to leave the impression that either The Crimson "quoted Professor Ogletree horribly out of context" or else "Professor Ogletree's response is not true."
For the response of The Crimson to this post, see the coverage of Oct. 7, 2004, below. Ogletree has not yet responded to this post, or to The Crimson's response, and the absence of any further explanation from him suggests his e-mail response to Velvel was not true. Apparently after the story appeared he never contacted The Crimson to complain of the quotation attributed to him, which one assumes he would have done if The Crimson had in fact horribly misquoted him. Still, at this juncture, having heard nothing further from Professor Ogletree, we would tend to give him the benefit of any doubt for at least a bit longer; the doubt should be resolved against him only if he definitively refuses to comment further.)
novalawcity, "Plagiarism at Harvard
("Lawrence Tribe, American constitutional law guru, has been accused of plagiarism in a book he authored in 1985," generating "so much discussion ... that a blog has been created for tracking references to this story and references to other Harvard legal academics also accused of plagiarism").
Oct. 5, 2004
Velvel on National Affairs (Dean Velvel)
"Re: The Ogletree Transgression"
(Reprinting e-mail from a lawyer arguing that the real scandal of legal academia is that law review editors do so much work on many articles, even by prominent professors, that law professors are able to build up solid reputations on the basis of articles that were barely publishable when they were accepted by the law review.)
The Enterprise of SouthofBoston.com (editorial)
"Steal someone else's work, blame others"
("The latest academic superstar to be accused of plagiary" is Professor Tribe, who "joins a long list of collagues who 'borrowed' from the works of others without giving credit -- Doris Kearns Goodwin, Charles Ogletree, Stephen Ambrose and on and on. These people didn't have to steal others' work; they are stellar writers, historians and educators in their own right. Yet somehow, through laziness, carelessness, perhaps even deviousness, they put their names on the works of others and reaped the financial rewards. ... Tribe was tripped up on passages he wrote in a book 19 years ago. But there should be no limit on academic thievery. His questionable excuse managed to insult almost everyone. He said his 'well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience through the omission of footnotes or endnotes -- in contrast to the practice I have always followed in my scholarly writing -- came at an unacceptable cost: my failure to attribute some of the material.' In other words, as he was trying to write down for the masses, he couldn't be bothered to be less than sloppy. How pathetic.").
Oct. 6, 2004
Velvel on National Affairs (Dean Velvel)
"Re: On Ghost Writing"
(Reprints e-mail from Eric McErlain, a ghostwriter of speeches for corporate executives, defending ghostwriting in the corporate context. Post also includes a response from Dean Velvel.)
(For Mr. McErlain's response to Dean Velvel, see: http://velvelonnationalaffairs.blogspot.com/2004/10/in-response-to-your-note-on-ghost.html)
Bloomin' Buzzin' Confusion (David Diehl)
"It Ain't Cheating if You Don't Get Caught"
("Ah, it's fall and the sweet smell of academic controversy is once again waftnig through the air. Following in the footsteps of Alan Dershowitz and Doris Kearns Goodwin, two more Harvard professors have been charged with plagiarism. This time it's law school professors Charles Ogletree and Laurence Tribe. In both cases they've admitted responsibility, but blamed the copying on poor editing and problems with student assistants.").
("Noted liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe finds himself in some deep and hot water.")
Oct. 7, 2004
Velvel on National Affairs (Dean Velvel)
"Crimson Staff's Response re. Ogletree Comments"
(See summary of Dean Velvel's post of Oct. 4, 2004, above. This is The Crimson's response to Dean Velvel's post urging a clarification of the circumstances involving whether The Crimson horribly misquoted Professor Ogletree as saying that the plagiarism charges against Professor Tribe were "nonsense." If The Crimson's e-mail is credited, it seems clear that at minimum Professor Ogletree "is mistaken in his recollection of our conversation," as The Crimson puts it.
With all the detail in The Crimson's e-mail, absent further comment from Professor Ogletree there seems to be no basis for resisting that conclusion. The e-mail was sent by two reporters, Daniel Hemel and Lauren Schuker. On September 26 they called and asked Professor Ogletree whether he thought what The Weekly Standard had reported about Professor Tribe rises to plagiarism. Professor Ogletree said: "It's nonsense, and Professor Tribe's rebuttals over the decades have made that clear." The reporters then read this quote back to Ogletree to verify it. Ogletree's apparent suggestion that the reporters were merely asking him about the claim Tribe wouldn't respond to the charges makes little sense. The reporters state they never said anything like that, and indeed they had just left a message for Tribe and e-mailed him, and they expected his reply. Further confirming that Ogletree was quoted accurately by the reporters, after the story was published on September 27, Ogletree never complained to them he had been misquoted, as would be expected when someone has been misquoted. The reporters also state that after learning of Professor Ogletree's e-mail to Dean Velvel claiming he'd been misquoted, "[w]e have written to Professor Ogletree asking that he discuss the issue with us, but he has yet to respond," and "we feel that we must correct Professor Ogletree's inaccurate portrayal of our Sept. 26 conversation."
Until we hear whether Professor Ogletree will be commenting further, we will assume it is possible he can set forth factual circumstances supporting the conclusion he simply misunderstood what the reporters were asking about. Until then, we think he deserves the benefit of the doubt, and we do not think it is necessary to conclude he sent a knowingly false e-mail to Dean Velvel. But if he sends no further response to Dean Velvel and never responds to the reporters' request that he call, that would raise serious questions.)
Harvard Law Record (Hugo Torres)
"Dean of Mass law school central figure in discovery of Tribe plagiarism
(Interesting article on Dean Velvel's weblog, and on the related matter of how the Tribe plagiarism story came about: "an unidentified law professor ... was prompted to" tip off the Weekly Standard "after becoming upset over comments made by Tribe that were posted on" Dean Velvel's weblog, in which Tribe stated "that the uncredited appropriation of the work of others was a significant problem." The author of the Weekly Standard article explained on Dean Velvel's weblog "the motivation behind the unknown professor. 'Tribe's expressions of sympathy for Goodwin and Ogletree did not prompt the tip ... But his Olympian declaration of a general problem did. [T]here is a legitimate disgust, I think, when people opine grandly on the general problem of which they are specifically (and secretly) guilty.'")
Harvard Law Record (editorial)
"Harvard owes students explanation over plagiarism"
("In the span of a month, it has been discovered that two Harvard law professors have copied the work of others without credit. This has caused something of a crisis within the Harvard community ..... Despite repeated cries from the Crimson and students, Harvard has failed to recognize the giant insult to the student body that is signified by its tepid response. Both the University and the Law School make a big deal about plagiarism (as, indeed, they should). ... Yet, when Professors are caught doing the same thing, Harvard goes into lockdown mode, taking care of its own and never discussing the penalties for such actions. Is this the example to be set for students? How can Harvard continue to put itself forth as a prominent center of learning when it displays a lack of concern for the integrity of the work produced by its faculty?" ... From the perspective of the study body it seems that plagiarism is the elephant in the room that the school simply refuses to acknowledge. In an article in this issue, the Record covers the exchanges that have occurred on the website of Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts Law School. It is a shame that these conversations are occurring on the website of another school. The student body here deserves to understand what is being done about this plague seeping through Harvard. ... This is a problem that will not simply go away. The question is, will Harvard continue to pretend no one is noticing, or will it confront the problem head on and make clear the seriousness with which it treats plagiarism?")
Harvard Law Record (Aaron Houck)
"Toward a new legal scholarship
(Essay praising "Professors Ogletree and Tribe ... for their attempts at pioneering a new brand of legal scholarship," which "for far too long ... has been hindered by the obligation to reveal every source that has in some way contributed to a given written work" -- in particular, praising Tribe's "exhilarating" approach in the 1985 book for which he is being attacked, in which "he bypassed the citation system altogether," so he "was able to record his stream of consciousness" and thereby "race on toward new frontiers in legal understanding, enriching fields that had been left fallow." Essay ends by applauding Olgetree and Tribe as "heroes of history," "for having the courage to tear at the walls restricting free legal thought. Like them, I can imagine a world without research and footnotes, and I am excited for the day to come when that dream becomes a reality.")
Harvard Law Record
"News brief: Ogletree part of Kerry legal team"
The Cavalier Daily (Alex Sellinger)
"Harvard. prof. admits misuse of copyrighted work"
(reporting results of interview with Joseph Bottum, author of the Weekly Standard article on Tribe, summarizing tip that led to story, and denying political motivations had anything to do with story)
"Prof Pursued by Mob of Bloggers"
Oct. 12, 2004
Velvel on National Affairs (Dean Velvel)
"[S]ome thoughts about ... folks who ... take credit for language [of] anonymous individuals"
http://velvelonnationalaffairs.blogspot.com/2004/10/some-thoughts-about-folks-who-take.html (E-mail from Michael Chesson, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts, commenting on the use of ghostwriters by politicians, in particular the very effective use of ghostwriters by John Kerry)
Newmark's Door: Things one middle-aged economist finds interesting
Oct. 14, 2004
Harvard Law Record, letter to the editor
Professor Alan Dershowitz
"Dershowitz responds to accusations"
(Responding to letter to the editor in September 24 issue, see here: http://www.hlrecord.org/news/2004/09/24/Opinion/Letters.To.The.Editor-731263.shtml.
(Professor Dershowitz makes a strong argument that, focusing on the substance of the issues concerning his book, it is unfair for him to be included as part of the plagiarism problem at Harvard Law School, along with Professors Ogletree and Tribe. We still believe there is a solid basis, however, to question Dershowitz's candor in his initial reactions to the plagiarism charges, as we will likely explain in a future post.)
See also clarifications at:
Boston Globe, "On the Down Low"
Marcella Bombardieri and Jenna Russell
http://www.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2004/10/17/umass_higher_ups_going_even_higher_up ("Harvard has been mum about how it is handling accusations against law professor Laurence Tribe, who a few weeks ago apologized for borrowing from another author's writing in a 19-year-old book. It's a notable contrast to how Harvard Law School dealt with the case of Charles Ogletree, who just weeks before Tribe, acknowledged lifting paragraphs from someone else's book. Dean Elena Kagan appointed former president Derek Bok and former dean Robert Clark to investigate, and then Ogletree published a long statement explaining the situation. Ogletree also said he faced some kind of sanction, although neither he nor school officials will say what it is. In Tribe's case, Harvard won't even say it is investigating ....")
Oct. 18, 2004
Harvard Crimson, letter to the editor
Michael Fertik, John O'Quinn, and Jocelyn Benson
"Tribe's plagiarism should be considered in context"
(Letter by Tribe surrogates (current or former research assistants) arguing that Professor Tribe's plagiarism should be considered in context. The three surrogates assert (without explaining the basis of their assertion or the source of their knowledge) that the plagiarism was "inadvertent," and "isolated," and confined to "a few isolated sentences" -- contrary to the as yet unrebutted Weekly Standard article pointing to a premeditated effort to rearrange sentences and change words to disguise the plagiarism, and contrary to Professor Tribe's admission that he failed to credit Professor Abraham's book as a book heavily used in writing his book.
The three surrogates mention that Professor Tribe in his book "acknowledges" Professor Abraham's book as the leading political history of appointments to the Supreme Court. They fail to mention that this was done at the back of his book, in a section merely making suggestions for further reading. They fail to mention that in his preface Professor Tribe expressly denigrated such political histories as inferior to his own book in light of his own superior credentials (and implicitly, Professor Abraham's inferior credentials). They fail to mention that nowhere in his book did Professor Tribe say he had relied in any way on Professor Abraham's book, so in the end he did not give any attribution at all of having obtained any assistance from Professor Abraham's book.
Apparently signaling a resolve by Professor Tribe not to comment further, and to resist the imposition of any penalties for scholarly misconduct, these Tribe surrogates state: "Professor Tribe has sincerely apologized, and that prompt acknowledgment should be the end of the matter." The letter ends by proclaiming Professor Tribe "America's leading and most creative constitutional scholar" and informing "the country and the legal profession" that they should be "proud and grateful . . . that Professor Tribe continues to work as hard and conscientiously as he has for the past forty years."
This letter raises more questions than it answers. We believe it was a mistake for Professor Tribe to try to deal with this matter through surrogates and thus introduce into the story regarding his plagiarism all the additional issues presented by his use of surrogates and his apparent unwillingness to further address the questions and charges personally.)
Oct. 19, 2004
Waddling Thunder, mach 2.0 (blog of Harvard Law School student)
(Reporting a joke by Judge Richard Posner, made in presenting a law-and-economics paper at Harvard Law School, while "pointing absently to an outline of his piece on the projector," to the effect: "'my paper meanders a bit, but I will say that it's not plagiarized.' I'm pretty sure everyone here got his point.")
For an corroboration and clarification of this, see:
(Oct. 23, 2004, e-mail from Judge Posner commenting on this post, confirming that at his Harvard presentation he went out of his way to have a bit of fun at the expense of Professors Tribe and Ogletree with the following statement based on the recent stories about their use of "research" assistants to write their books for them: "My paper meanders, but at least I wrote it myself. And while naturally I have not acknowledged my predecessors generously, neither have I made a wholesale appropriation of someone else's ideas.")