Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Ogletree Response

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
To: Charles Ogletree
Sent: Wednesday, November 10, 2004 1:46 PM
Subject: Response

November 10, 2004
Via E-mail

Dear Professor Ogletree:

Thank you very much for your email of Saturday, November 6th. I wish I could have responded to you more quickly, but I did not arrive back in the country until late Sunday night and have since been swamped trying to catch up after a nearly three week absence.

With regard to points, in your email, let me say, first, that it is gracious of you to take responsibility if there was a misunderstanding with The Crimson. It would seem that, if a misunderstanding existed, the situation was one of those common times when it will be impossible to retrospectively know exactly why the misunderstanding occurred. So it is gentlemanly of you to take the responsibility on your own shoulders.

In about the middle of your email, you make the following statement to me: "You also mention on your website that I and President Bok say students wrote my book." Professor, with the greatest respect, I am at a loss as to how you could write this in your email; I am at a loss to understand how you could write that I mention that you and President Bok say students wrote your book. As far as I can see, I said no such thing. I questioned whether you or assistants "wrote" (so to speak) the plagiarized paragraphs from Balkin. And I questioned whether the admitted insertion of these paragraphs by an assistant indicated that perhaps other parts of the book could have been written by assistants, which I thought might, at least in part, be most surprising if it were true. But where in heaven's name did I mention that you and President Bok said students had written the book? I am at a total loss to understand why you said I did this. If I am missing something, please enlighten me.

(I noticed this morning, incidentally, that after I was abroad the bloggers at Authorskeptics wrote that you and President Bok said you had law students write much of your book for you. Perhaps you have mixed up what I said with what Authorskeptics said.)

In your email, you also say to me that "I think you have read the book . . . ." You think I have read the book? Professor, the second sentence of my initial posting of September 10th says "I read and enjoyed the book earlier this year." You do not disbelieve that, do you?

Professor Ogletree, I know it is a harsh thing to say, and for that reason I almost feel badly in saying it, but don't the two just-discussed statements in your email reflect the kind of sloppiness which apparently caused the plagiarism problem in the first place?

One last point regarding statements in your email. Immediately after saying (wrongly) that I mention that you and President Bok say students wrote the book, you say, "That is not true. I wrote this book." Professor, without meaning to be Clintonesque, it depends on what the meaning of "wrote" is. Does 'wrote" mean that you wrote the first draft and each succeeding draft of the entire book? If so, it is public that you did not "write" the entire book, because about 840 words were plagiarized from Balkin. Or, does "wrote" mean that, when it came to Balkin's words, you personally made the initial decision to insert them, as opposed to merely reading them as inserted by someone else and leaving them in? The latter would not constitute "writing" that portion of the book in my opinion, but the former would. The problem here, of course, is that you have said that an assistant inserted Balkin's words in a draft section for the purpose of being reviewed, researched and summarized by another research assistant -- which does not sound as if you "wrote" the portion of the book at issue by making the initial decision to insert Balkin's words. But, regardless of how things currently sound, did you, in fact, specifically instruct the first student beforehand to insert Balkin's stuff? If so, this would put a new light on things.

And, with further regard to the meaning of "wrote," these points raise a question as to the remainder of the book. Did you personally write every word of the first and all succeeding drafts of the book apart from the Balkin material? Or did you have others write substantial drafts, or substantial drafts of entire sections, which you then reviewed and edited? If the former, then you "wrote" the entire rest of the book. If the latter, you did not.

Professor, with respect, as far as I know there have as yet been no answers to these questions. They are not resolved by the possibly bald statement that "I wrote this book." For, Clintonesque as it sounds, it does depend on what you mean by the word "wrote."

You know, although it is unfortunate that quotation marks were inadvertently omitted around Balkin's words, I have to say that, if this is "all" that occurred, it is a little hard to understand why Dean Kagan thought the matter "'a serious scholarly transgression'" after receiving the report from President Bok and Dean Clark. After all, unfortunate as it is, it sometimes does occur that writers, perhaps sloppily, inadvertently omit quotation marks. And, as far as I know, nobody is accusing you of deliberately omitting the quotation marks. So why is this matter such a big deal to Dean Kagan, and why is Harvard apparently going to impose some currently undisclosed penalty, if all that occurred is inadvertent -- sloppy and negligent to be sure, but nonetheless inadvertent -- omission of quotation marks? If all that occurred is, if the only thing bothering Dean Kagan is, an inadvertent omission of quotation marks around Balkin's material, then neither Dean Kagan, nor President Bok, nor Dean Clark are doing you any favor by not coming right out and saying that this is all that occurred, is the sole reason to be troubled, and is the sole reason for the imposition of some currently undisclosed penalty.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence R. Velvel, Dean

----- Original Message -----
From: Charles Ogletree
To: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel"
Sent: Saturday, November 06, 2004 8:02 PM
Subject: Fwd: Re: Corrected response

Dear Dean Velvel: I have not visited your website regularly because of my crazy schedule during the elections. I just read the Crimson response.I disagree with the reporter who described the conversation when he called me for a comment. As I said before, my comment was about whether Prof. Tribe would respond to these very serious charges, not whether the work was plagiarized. How would I know? I was confident that he would respond, and as I recall, the student reporter asked me whether I could assist him in reaching Professor Tribe. I do not read the Crimson with any regularity, and have not followed its coverage. I have though, for the past 20 years, responded to every call made by the students, on any subject, and as you can imagine, at all times of the day or night, and every day of the week. If there was any misunderstanding about what I said or meant, for that I apologize and takefull responsibility. You also mention on your website that I and former President Bok say students wrote my book. That is not true.I wrote this book, and it was my view concerning Brown's impact on my life, from childhood, through adolescence, college, law school, and as a young lawyer. Other than the historical work on Houston and the Marshall/King chapters, I really try to take the reader through my path as a "Brown Baby", having been born less than two years before the decision. I think you have read the book, and know that it is an historical memoir, and as I say rather clearly, designed to reach a broad public audience. As I wrote it, I listened to several people who told me to tone down the legal jargon, and I tried my best to do that. I continue to take full responsibility for the errors, and I should not have let the pressing deadline in August influence the final edits of the book. As I said from the beginning, no one is to blame but me, and the responsibility is mine alone.

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home