On April 28, Dean Velvel e-mailed us to alert us to his latest post on the Larry Tribe affair, which we then annotated and posted on our own blog, here. We had no knowledge of this post before it was made; that is, even though it mentioned us, we did not suggest it or contribute to its wording.
After posting our annotated version of Dean Velvel's statement, we e-mailed him to alert him to our action. We also mentioned why we used the word "complicit" to describe those in legal academia who, if they do not speak out in some fashion about the issues raised by Dean Velvel, might fairly be accused of assisting Harvard, through their inaction, in sweeping these issues under the rug.
This comment prompted Dean Velvel to e-mail us with some thoughts about the "complicity" issue, and us to e-mail him back on the issue. Dean Velvel has suggested we post all the e-mails, which we are doing below. We will include any future e-mails on this point in an update.
Of course, we welcome e-mails from readers on this point and any other points of interest. As previously explained, our standard practice is to strip all names and identifying information from the e-mails before reprinting them; we will only use your name if you specifically authorize us to do so. Also, we welcome anonymous tips and comments. We are in the process of setting up a companion blog which will make the process of submitting anonymous tips and comments quite simple.
Here, then, are the e-mails. As usual, we have added links to help orient readers; these links were not in the original e-mails.
To: "Dean Lawrence R. Velvel"
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2005 4:28 PM
Subject: Re: A question of honesty
Thank you for alerting us to this. We've posted an annotated version of this on our blog, with a short note endorsing your statements. Note our use of the word "complicit." It may strike some, even you, as too strong, but we wanted to very gently warn people at the top law schools (we're almost half way through e-mailing an alert to all the tenured professors at any school which might be considered "top 10") that if no one at a particular school says anything about this, we might down the line suggest the faculty of that school is "complicit" in the dumbing down of scholarly standards in effect at Harvard. At least we might consider turning up the heat down the line if there's absolutely no commentary at lots of schools, which is why we decided to use the word now.
I'm glad you mentioned the liberal/conservative point. Most law professors are liberals, and Tribe and Ogletree are prominent liberals, and are probably well liked (or perhaps even better for them, well feared) by many other law professors, so it's understandable how ideological/personal reasons might motivate people to remain silent. But we don't see that as a legitimate excuse for remaining silent, merely an explanation.
Date Fri, 29 Apr 2005 10:35 AM
From "Dean Lawrence R. Velvel"
Subject Re: A question of honesty
April 29, 2005
Your latest email causes me to briefly discuss the question of complicity regarding what I think a very important matter in our society and in any democratic society. (Perhaps it is also an important matter to some extent in non-free societies, although there the possibility of dire retribution, even death, enters the equation.) In democratic countries we are free to take stands, to vote, etc. Yet most people do not take stands on most issues, for a wide variety of reasons that are too plain to need elaboration. The result is that evil, bad, call-it-what-you-will triumphs regularly, from politics, to business, to academics, to personal affairs. It seems to me that not taking a stand when faced with something bad is a form of complicity, although I have only ruminated about this, and have not considered it systematically.
One person who has considered it systematically is Barbara Kellerman of the Kennedy School. She has written about the matter in a new book from the Harvard Business School Press called Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters. I think it fair to say she is properly antagonistic to the complicity displayed by followers and bystanders who allow bad things to happen. You might wish to read her book and/or to get in touch with her. (She is, I note, going to be interviewed about her book for one hour on a television program I host called Books of Our Time, which appears on Comcast's Channel CN8 at 11:00 a.m. on Sundays about twenty times per year. The interview will be taped on May 4th, shown in New England on June 26th, and shown in the mid Atlantic states on an as yet undetermined date. The extensive outline that will be written in order to prepare for the interview will be posted on a website called VelvelsBookOutlines.com shortly after May 4th. The outline will in effect give people a relatively quick precis of Ms. Kellerman's important ideas.)
In the present instance, the question of complicity involves acquiescence in the lowering of academic standards and in further erosion of honesty in American society -- an erosion already responsible for much of what has gone wrong in the last 45 years. Strictly in the academic realm, moreover, the erosion -- and complicity -- go beyond the Harvard Law School and beyond Harvard University. And conceivably one might find it especially problematic to learn of the erosion -- here due to ghostwriting and plagiarism -- in the sciences and in medicine. (Richard Lewontin has written strongly of the problem in the sciences, if memory serves.) [Note: see, e.g., here and here.]
One is aware that, as lawyers and/or as law students, we tend to focus on law schools. But one also suspects that, should you choose to seek it, you might find a lot of support in Cambridge from faculty in departments other than the law school, particularly, perhaps, from professors who already have shown the courage to speak out publicly against various actions of Lawrence Summers. One might equally suspect that, again should you choose to seek it, you might also find support in non-law school departments of other universities. There probably are, after all, a lot of people out there, liberals and conservatives alike I would guess, who are disgusted by the erosion in standards of academic honesty and in standards of honesty generally.
There may also, of course, be people who to one degree or another would justify or defend what has occurred at Harvard with regard to the ghostwriting and/or lack of punishment. If so, they too should weigh in rather than remain silently on the sidelines.
If you do not object, I shall post your email to me and this reply email, and you of course should feel free to do the same. Please let me know, however, if you object to my posting your email.
Lawrence R. Velvel
Date Fri, 29 Apr 2005 6:57 PM
To "Dean Lawrence R. Velvel"
Subject Re: A question of honesty
Dear Dean Velvel:
As I've said previously, you have our advance permission to post everything and anything we send you -- at least unless in a particular e-mail we indicate otherwise, and state that something is for "your eyes only," and give a valid reason as to why confidentiality is needed, which we anticipate we will rarely, if ever, need to do. As advocates of transparency, we believe the default rule about our communications must be that those who receive e-mails from us should be free to send them to anyone they want, or post them, as they wish, provided of course that the content is reproduced or summarized accurately.
Regarding this particular e-mail you've asked about, we've been planning eventually to post about our e-mailing of professors at the "top 10" schools, and to suggest schools who make no effort to comment on these issues are complicit in the dumbing down of academic standards, and all we were doing was giving you some advance word of our efforts. We have no problem with others being privy to our explanation of what we're doing, now, to the extent it is not obvious from what we have posted already, and from our flurry of e-mails to (so far) 6 schools.
The points you make in your e-mail are very good ones, and I find it difficult to improve on your analysis. I hope you post it. We will probably do the same at some point.
The one thing I would add is that, although there are many reasons a law professor might not comment on a particular issue of some relevance to the legal academy, in this situation I think the "complicity" charge will be very difficult to avoid for those professors who say absolutely nothing at all, that is, neither individually nor through some joint statement or the statement of a faculty member appointed to address the issue on behalf of a school's entire faculty. (I agree with you that law professors who take a stand, but who happen to disagree with you and us on the issues, are not "complicit"; the complicity charge relates to those who do nothing).
To my mind, silence on this high-profile issue of whether it involves serious academic misconduct, even fraud, for a law professor to make undisclosed use of ghostwriters to write major portions of a work can only reflect:
(1) a decision by the law professor that the issue isn't important enough to comment on, that is, rather than take the time to review the issue and make a statement, particularly a statement on whether such conduct by law professors is acceptable at the law professor's school, the law professor decided to spend the time on other professional or personal pursuits which he or she regarded as more important than defending basic principles of academic integrity; or
(2) a decision by the law professor that any statement on the issue might put the law professor, or his or her ideological or personal allies, at risk, for example, because the allies, or even the law professor himself or herself, use ghostwriters.
At the risk of unduly aggrandizing the likely impact of our efforts, and your efforts, if after everyone has a full opportunity to read through the relevant materials about what has happened at Harvard, we see an extended period of silence at one or more law schools, I don't think people will draw the conclusion that no one at the particular law school cares about matters of academic fraud involving the undisclosed use of student ghostwriters by law professors.
I think people will draw the conclusion that at that law school, as seems to be the case at Harvard, the law professors routinely use students to ghostwrite parts of their publications, and no one sees much if anything wrong with that, but that just like at Harvard, rather than face up to the issues this raises and either uphold traditional practice and ban it or reverse traditional practice and endorse it, that law school is complicit with Harvard in trying to sweep such issues under the rug.
"Helping ensure Harvard plagiarists face the music, since September 2004."