Re: The Larry Tribe Transgression
April 19, 2005
Appended below is some very recent e-mail correspondence between AuthorSkeptics and myself with regard to the Larry Tribe matter. As I told AuthorSkeptics, I am working on a lengthy post regarding Larry Summers, Elena Kagan, and Larry Tribe. The e-mail correspondence below relates, in part, to that forthcoming post.
Lawrence R. Velvel
Dear Dean Velvel:
We thought you might want to be alerted to our latest post, here: Has it occurred to you that the reason Summers and Kagan were so "firmly convinced" Tribe's plagiarism was the product simply of "inadvertence" was that Tribe's defense was, basically, "my ghostwriter did it"? That would be a valid defense to intentional plagiarism, wouldn't it? Kagan seems to have some personal experience with Tribe's extensive use of ghostwriters, as it seems she was one of Tribe's ghostwriters in the1980s as a student. Someone with a sense of humor (maybe a warped one) is impersonating Tribe at thebigmahatma.blogspot.com, and there "Tribe" talks about the 32 students who wrote the second edition of his treatise. I thought it was a joke, but the preface actually lists 32 students (obviously they drafted much of it, which is why he needed so many students; as you pointed out with Judge Posner, it takes many fewer helpers if one writes a book oneself, and typically Posners books have only one to three research assistants). And one of the students is "Elena Kagan," who I assume is the same Elena Kagan who is now dean. Of course, that defense, which was pretty much Ogletree's, when you laid bare his September statement about his "corrections" to the"errors" in his book, seems ultimately more devastating to Tribe's reputation than the idea that Tribe personally copied from Abraham, especially coming after the November statements in the national media by Professor Hoffer (on CSPAN's "Booknotes") that Tribe may be merely a "compiler" of material ghostwritten for him by others, and by Professor Gardner (in the New York Times) about the phenomenon of "managed books."
Tribe hasn't denied that he's a compiler of managed books, which presumably he would do if he could -- just as Ogletree would have made the two statements you suggested he make, to clear himself of the ghostwriting charge, if he could (as you may have noticed, we collected all those e-mails so they're easy to read, here: Perhaps it would be fruitful to formulate, similarly, some questions for Professor Tribe which you could e-mail him and/or post on your blog, which would give him an opportunity to clear himself of any suggestion his defense, and the basis for the Harvard statement of "inadvertence," is basically, "my ghostwriter did it." If you want, we could draft up some for your consideration. If you don't do this, we might, but we think it would be more effective coming from you, as you were the one who used this technique with such effectiveness previously to expose the real deal on Professor Ogletree. It would be important to do it in a dignified manner, just as you did with Ogletree, so anyone reading it in the end would realize Tribe was given every courtesy and chance to clear himself, but simply isn't able to truthfully rebut the charge.
As with the Ogletree transgression, we feel the most important aspect of the Tribe transgression isn't the borrowing per se, but how it proves the use of ghostwriters (no one as smart and experienced as Tribe would have made these rookie mistakes, providing the first-year student who worked on the book must have been drafting chunks of it). Harvard seems to be trying to dodge that in this statement, and we don't think it should be able to do that -- we think Professor Gardner is right that Harvard has a special obligation not to sweep issues of plagiarism under the rug. If you decide to start an e-mail exchange with Professor Tribe similar to your exchange with Professor Ogletree -- or at least post on your blog, and invite him to comment -- at least at this point, please don't mention we suggested this. Officially we're remaining silent until we can read all the statements, though we very much doubt our final bottomline will be any different than what I just sketched. Feel free to contact us if you wish, e.g., to run by any questions you might pose to Prof. Tribe on your blog, before you post, if that might help. But if you don't wish to have a dialogue with us, that's okay too. We mostly want to make the suggestion for what it's worth. As far as e-mailing us, we have a strict rule we won't reprint on our blog anything anyone sends us without explicit prior permission to post it. So anything you send us will be kept confidential, unless you ask we post it.
"Helping ensure Harvard plagiarists face the music, since September 2004."
Following up on my earlier e-mail, I've taken the liberty of drafting something like I think you might consider posting, to try to pin down that, in fact, Tribe's defense which the Harvard administration has endorsed is, "my ghostwriter did it." Tribe might not want to address statements 3 & 4, which relate to other works, but if he's unwilling to make statements 1 & 2, that should confirm in the view of reasonable people the past suggestions that the book was written for Tribe by a law student -- which is really more shameful, in my view, than if Tribe had copied the material personally, as was Doris Kearns Goodwin's account of what happened on her books. If Tribe at least by his silence confirms he used a ghostwriter, and that was the basis of finding it was only "inadvertence," if he has never used ghostwriters on his "scholarly" work (he's tried to draw a distinction between his other work and his 1985 book for laymen), then surely he will make statements 3 & 4, if he can. If not, perhaps he can at least explain the EXTENT to which he relies on students to draft material for him. If it's just here and there, or just footnotes (as seems to be the case with Dershowitz), one would think it would be better for him to say that than leave the impression most of his books and articles are drafted by students.
Feel free to use any or all of this, as you see fit, without attribution, though if you somehow feel you need to say this line of inquiry was suggested, go ahead -- though please don't say we suggested it without first checking with us, both in general and on the wording. Our preference would be, at least for now, to not be openly partisan unless we've fully analyzed anything. And we think these sorts of questions, which really just follow up on what you did earlier with Professor Ogletree, would carry vastly greater weight coming from you, and would be much harder for Tribe to ignore.
HERE'S THE MATERIAL: The Tribe Transgression: "My Ghostwriter Did It"? The Weekly Standard's article on Professor Tribe suggested much of the1985 book involved, "God Save This Honorable Court," was written for Tribe by a law student (citing 1993 reporting by Legal Times, which had interviewed a number of the student's friends who evidently he had told about it, or had seen him writing it during law school). In November, on CSPAN, historian and professor Peter Charles Hoffer, author of a recent book on plagiarism, suggested that at least to some degree, Tribe may be merely a "compiler" of material ghostwritten for him by students. Also in November, the New York Times published quotations by Harvard professor Howard Gardner who is concerned about the recent phenomenon of "managed books," in which some professors have students write first drafts of material in their books, and who believes: "Scholarship - the core activity of the university - cannot be delegated to assistants."
Harvard's recent statement resolving the plagiarism charges againstProfessor Tribe mark it down to "inadvertence." President Summers andDean Kagan is "firmly convinced that the error was the product of inadvertence rather than intentionality." Because, as documented in the Weekly Standard, the person who wrote the sections of Tribe's 1985 book copying from Professor Abraham took some care to change the order of phrases and some words so as to avoid verbatim copying, in what was obviously a premeditated act of plagiarism, it would appear that Professor Tribe's defense, which Summers and Kagan accepted, was essentially: "My ghostwriter did it." If true, and if Tribe did not realize the ghostwriter had plagiarized from Professor Abraham, then it seems the Harvard statement is correct, and one understands the firm conviction of Summers and Kagan that only "inadvertence" was involved - Professor Tribe's negligence in supervising the work of his ghostwriter. If that was Professor Tribe's defense to the plagiarism charges, then one expects he will never make any effort to rebut the above suggestions that he uses student ghostwriters, so that it turns out rather than being an author of works on constitutional law, he is a "compiler" of "managed books." In the event, however, that "my ghostwriter did it" was NOT ProfessorTribe's defense to the plagiarism charges, or if it was his defense to these charges but his use of a ghostwriter was limited to this one book and does not affect his other work, then I will offer Professor Tribe the opportunity to make one or more of the following simple statements regarding the use of ghostwriters, just as I earlier offered such an opportunity to Professor Ogletree.
Professor Tribe may elect to comment on only items 1 & 2, or only on items 3 & 4, or on all of the items, or on none of the items. If he can truthfully make all four statements, he will lay to rest all the suggestions regarding the use of ghostwriters to produce "managed books." If he can truthfully make at least statements 3 & 4, we will have confined such charges to only one book. If he can truthfully make none of the statements, that will make more explicit what seems to be implicit in the Harvard statement on Tribe's "inadvertence" regarding this book: that Tribe has been cleared of intentional plagiarism because his ghostwriter did it.
STATEMENTS WHICH MIGHT BE MADE BY PROFESSOR TRIBE, IF TRUE: Considering the 1985 book, "God Save This Honorable Court," only: 1. "Except for normal word changes made by others in the editing process, I personally wrote every word of the first and all subsequent drafts of the book." 2. Although in the process of writing that book I received and adopted ideas and suggestions from others, those ideas and suggestions did not come to me in the form of drafts of portions of the book which I then inserted in the book pretty much unchanged except for some editing. Rather, I myself wrote the language that reflects those ideas andsuggestions." Setting aside that book (whether or not Professor Tribe makes any comment on it), as to all other books published by him since 1985, particularly the treatise, American Constitutional Law, and all law review articles published by him since 1985: 3. "Except for normal word changes made by others in the editing process, I personally wrote every word of the first and all subsequent drafts of those books and law review articles." 4. Although in the process of writing those books and law review articles I received and adopted ideas and suggestions from others, those ideas and suggestions did not come to me in the form of drafts of portions of the books or law review articles which I then inserted in the books or law review articles pretty much unchanged except for some editing. Rather, I myself wrote the language that reflects those ideas and suggestions."
April 18, 2005
It was a surprise to receive your email today (Monday). It came when I was in the middle of writing a lengthy piece relating to the Tribe matter, a project begun on Sunday and hopefully (though not likely) to be finished Tuesday. Parts of what I had already drafted, or was already planning to draft, when your email arrived were similar or identical to what you suggested, e.g., my post is going to deal with the possibility of ghost writing, and planned to say that Tribe should, if he truthfully can, make two statements identical with or similar to the two statements that were suggested to Professor Ogletree in an email. The discussion of the Tribe matter, however, is being written in context of an even larger matter: my view that it is time for Summers to leave Harvard, and that Kagan should leave as well.
I note that in your email you invite me to correspond with you and you offer to provide help, even to write questions to be asked of Tribe. I thank you for the offer of help, but, especially in the context of this current situation (although I would feel this way regardless), I believe it would be better by far to do all my work myself. (No ghostwriters for me, right?)
I do, however, want to post your email on my blog, along with this reply, to help ward off any accusations that could even theoretically arise in the future to the effect that my forthcoming post was written at your urging, or that the statements it will urge upon Professor Tribe were written at your urging. The current situation is, in my judgment, far too serious to allow there to be any possibility of even a remotely believable accusation of this nature. I hope, therefore, that you will not object to my posting your email and this reply early-on, since my own piece will likely be finished and posted late on Tuesday or, far more likely I am afraid, on Thursday or Friday. (It can’t be completed on Wednesday because I have to go to New York to attend a funeral there on Wednesday and, as you may know, I do not use a computer, so my secretary has to type, and I have to proof each of what usually are several drafts, making it impossible for me to finish the work on Wednesday.) (Incidentally, though I do not know how to operate a computer, I received your email today because it showed up on my BlackBerry.) In posting your email, I will have my secretary remove all identifying characteristics except to say that it came from the individual(s?) who operate AuthorSkeptics, a website devoted to the problems of plagiarism besetting Harvard.
If you have any objection to my posting your email, please notify me immediately. Otherwise your email and this reply will be posted late this afternoon or early tomorrow. If you do object, I will simply say somewhere in the piece I am writing that, in the midst of working on it, I received an email from people who are very interested in the problem and run a website devoted to it, urging me to deal with the possibility of ghostwriting and to put pertinent questions to Professor Tribe. I will of course add that I was in the midst of doing this, and did all my own work. Given the situation, I would regard this as necessary in order to try to ward off any possibility of an even remotely believable accusation of the type discussed above. But I do think it would be far more helpful if you were to allow your own email and this response to be posted.
The desirability of allowing this is only the more pronounced because, in my judgment, you have done a wonderful service to all by operating the AuthorSkeptics website, and there should be nothing done that would even theoretically reflect adversely on what has been a fine public service.
Lawrence R. Velvel, Dean
April 19, 2005
I have now (early on Tuesday morning) received your second email (on a BlackBerry). Many things you discuss are already in my draft. So it seems to me more important than ever, for reasons enunciated previously, to post both of your emails and my two replies. I greatly appreciate all the work you have done on the plagiarism and copycatting matters, and, as said before, think you have performed a real public service. But I do not want it thought, that I am carrying anyone else’s water on this matter or that I am acting as a front man, as it were, for someone else’s views, gripes, etc., or for persons obviously opposed to Tribe, regardless of how well taken I may think some or all of the views and gripes are. Therefore, I hope you will not object to my posting your emails and my replies, with the sender of the emails to me being identified only as the operator(s?) of AuthorSkeptics.
I must add that, given some of the statements that you suggest Tribe be asked to make, your first two, if memory serves, are pretty close to the two I previously suggested Professor Ogletree make, and are very close to two that I had written into my draft before receiving your email.
Given all these points, I reiterate the sincere hope that you will not object to your emails and my replies being posted. And given all these points and your second email, I have to say, very unhappily, that I now may post these things even if you do object -- it is that important to me that there be no hint of carrying water for persons who obviously are very much against Tribe, regardless of how well taken I think some or all of their points may be and regardless of how great a public service I believe they have rendered.
Lawrence R. Velvel
Dear Dean Velvel,
Thank you for your two e-mails of today. The irony, maybe absurdity, of the situation had not occurred to me: I ghostwrote some material for your consideration, in so doing plagiarizing pretty much verbatim from the questions you put to Professor Ogletree last fall (you're right that's why the questions I drafted and your questions are so similar), for the purpose of highlighting what seems obvious to me: that despite the stonewalling by Harvard found in its official statement (at least what can be gleaned of it from press reports), it seems Professor Tribe's defense was, "my ghostwriter did it." We of course have no objection to our e-mails to you being reprinted, along with your e-mails to us. However, we would ask that you permit us to be the ones to post them, which we would like to do in the next few hours once we get your affirmative OK, which we feel we need to do, because once we post them, everyone will know what you're preparing to post. We think it's tidier for us to post them on our blog, which among other things will allow us to include links to what we're discussing in the e-mails, so others can follow the content more easily. Then, when you post, you can have a short line about us having suggested, based on your past exchange with Professor Ogletree, a similar exchange with Professor Tribe, and about our suggestion having been made after you were already well under way with work on a much broader post. We had planned to officially withhold any editorial comment on the Tribe matter until we had an opportunity to read the official Harvard statement, and Professor Tribe's e-mail to the press. We requested those materials in e-mails we sent to President Summers, Dean Kagan, and Professor Tribe at 11:40 a.m. yesterday, referencing our recent blogpost calling attention to the fact that the official Harvard statement had not been posted on the Internet. All three of them (or at least people in their offices) received the e-mails and went to our blog within a half hour (our referral logs show three separate Harvard IP addresses visiting our blog right after we sent our e-mail). When five hours passed and the information had not e-mailed to us, and indeed we hadn't received any sort of e-mail response, we concluded Harvard was stonewalling even on releasing the official explanation of the Tribe matter, and we drafted up the detailed language for your consideration. (As of now, 25 hours as we sent our e-mails, we've still received nothing.) At this point, given the extent to which Harvard is stonewalling, we see no need to further withhold public comment on the matter. Otherwise, Harvard's stonewalling would have the effect of thwarting comment on the matter, which perhaps is the intent behind it.
We plan to post shortly about Harvard stonewalling on making the official statement public, though that post won't mention you, or this e-mail exchange; we'll wait to hear from you to make sure we can post your e-mails, and when we can post them. For the record, your e-mails to us today are the first substantive e-mails you've sent us, ever. The only e-mail I could find from you was a simple link you sent us on September 29 to one of your posts about Professor Ogletree, which included no comments, which I assume you sent simply because we had mentioned your blog on our blog. I assume your technical people could confirm that fact for anyone who wants to inquire, though I suppose that won't satisfy anyone inclined to think there's a vast right-wing conspiracy at work here with you, a prominent liberal legal academic, somehow at the center. We have similarly sent you links to several of our blog items discussing your blog on several occasions, but we haven't previously made any suggestions as to the content of your posts.
Also for the record, you're correct that at this point, we "are very much against Tribe." People should be aware of that and take it into account for what it's worth (as we said in an early post, since we're anonymous, people should assume the worst regarding our motives). We're particularly negative about the Tribe matter because we waited -- for nothing -- more than six months to comment on the substance of the charges against Tribe, to allow Professor Tribe and the administration an opportunity to make a fully transparent statement on the matter, and the end result was an official statement saying even less about the matter than was said about the Ogletree matter, an official statement which unlike the Ogletree statement Harvard won't even post on a website. However, our problem is not with Professor Tribe per se, but with the culture of non-transparency at Harvard regarding academic misconduct by its professors, something Professor Howard Gardner has complained about on your blog, and in the Harvard Crimson. That's what led us to start e-mailing people last September, and eventually set up a blog, to call attention to the outrageousness of Harvard having stonewalled on the Ogletree plagiarism for at least four months, while it allowed Professor Ogletree to celebrate Brown v. Board's anniversary and go on a book tour, and then released the news about supposed "corrections" of "mistakes" involved in the "editing" of the book, by posting it on the Friday afternoon of Labor Day Weekend. When a law student objected that calling ourselves, as we did then,"OgletreeSkeptics" made it seem like we had a vendetta against Professor Ogletree personally, we changed our name, as suggested, to "AuthorSkeptics." Our concern about non-transparency, and also the double standard in how ne professors and students are judged on academic misconduct which is the reason for the non-transparency (to try to obscure the fact that the standards being applied to professors are more lenient than those being applied to students), is what led us to attack Professor Dershowitz for a lack of candor in confronting the plagiarism charges against him (much less serious ones, in our view), in not admitting up front that he had students write the footnotes of his book for him, and directed them to copy a number of the footnotes verbatim from another book. And it's what is now leading us to criticize Harvard and Professor Tribe for the non-transparency regarding the plagiarism charges against him, of a sort even more outrageous than the non-transparency involving Professor Ogletree.
We did not start out with any animus toward Professor Tribe. Indeed, if you look at our blog you will see various positive statements about him, especially early on. As corroboration of that fact, please consider the following e-mail we received from Professor Tribe last September, which we never reprinted on our blog even though he authorized us to do so, and never sent anyone (even you, though it concerned you), because it portrayed Professor Tribe in a negative light, and we saw no point to reprinting it, though we did note the existence of the e-mail on our blog. We think it's appropriate to disclose now, to answer any suggestion we started out with an animus toward Professor Tribe, given your observation we "obviously are very much against Tribe." Our forbearing from reprinting it earlier helps show we didn't start out being very much against Professor Tribe. Anyway, here it is:
"Larry Tribe" <>To: "OgletreeSkeptics"
Subject: RE: Ogletree Plagiarism -- Our Revised News Archive Mentioning You
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004 22:30:58 -0400
Your use of my statement -- which, incidentally, I hadn't authorized Dean Velvel to release, despite the contrary inference he chose to draw from my failure to express an active objection when I had made clear to him that I was immersed in meeting numerous pressing deadlines and when he must therefore have known I would be unlikely to have time even to think about whether a letter I had written to him personally was a letter I would be willing to share more broadly -- borders on the ridiculous, and crosses the line of the indecent. I resent being involuntrily associated with what looks and smells to me like an ugly effort to smear an able and honorable colleague, and I have far more pressing things to do than to become involved in an exchange with you --whoever you might be! Feel free to post this wherever you wish, but don't expect me to respond further.
Larry Tribe Laurence H. Tribe
Carl M. Loeb University Professor Harvard University Hauser Hall
4201575 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 Office: 617-495-4621-----
Original Message-----From: OgletreeSkeptics [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Thursday, September 16, 2004 8:54 PMTo: d HYPERLINK "mailto:email@example.com" firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Ogletree Plagiarism -- Our Revised News Archive Mentioning You Professor Tribe: We admire the principled, yet compassionate, stance you took in your e-mail to Dean Velvel. We have featured it prominently in this updated listing of news stories on the Ogletree story. The listing has gone through several versions in the past week, as you may know. In the spirit of your statements, and based on comments we've received, we've toned down some of the past language which was perhaps too negative in tone. We're in the process of sending this to the Harvard student newspapers and others in the next few hours. We wanted to send you it first, as a courtesy. We understand you're probably too busy to offer comments, but we'd appreciate any suggestions you might have for calling further attention to these issues. We agree this should not be a personal controversy. Whether or not people like or dislike Ogletree, everyone in academia should take a serious look at the issues raised by this story. The less focus on Ogletree specifically, the better, though dean velvel makes a good point that some discussion of the specifics is necessary.
We just posted the material I mentioned in my e-mail. As I said, I'll hold off on posting our e-mail exchange until you OK it. My plan would be to post it in the following order: My 1st e-mail to you, and your 1st e-mail to me (written before my 2nde-mail to you). My 2nd e-mail to you (sent before anything you e-mailed me, and hence not responding to anything you said), and your 2nd e-mail to me. My 3rd e-mail to you, responding to your 2 e-mails, plus whatever e-mail you send back now, authorizing me to reprint your e-mails, and making any comments you wish (positive or negative) about my e-mail, and our project generally. As I said, we'd very much prefer to post the e-mail exchange ourselves, at a time you think appropriate, rather than have it on your blog, principally because we can then include links at various points of our e-mails to orient the reader. I assume that's okay with you, as it will allow you to focus on the substance in your blog and not have readers' attention diluted by a relatively unimportant sideshow. But if you feel otherwise, let me know so we can discuss it further. It sounds like you won't be able to polish your material and get it posted until Thursday or Friday, and we won't be posting anything before then without your OK, so there's no emergency as to the timing -- i.e., no need for you to get something on your blog to protect your independence. I was sorry to hear about your need to attend a funeral tomorrow, and I hope it was not a close relative or friend, or if it was, that the circumstances are not especially tragic. I admire your decision to press these issues publicly and put considerable energy into doing it even in the midst of these personal circumstances.
April 19, 2005
Thank you for your email.
I sympathize with the reasons why you wish to post our exchanges, approve of your posting them, and believe you should include our third exchange and this fourth one as well along with the first two. But while I approve of your posting the exchanges for reasons germane to your own readership and work, my concerns that my readership too have relevant knowledge requires that our exchanges shall also be posted on my blog, and that shall therefore be done at around 4:30 p.m. today.
In view of the fact that you apparently have been unable to get the statements of Summers and Kagan, and Tribe, dated April 13th and issued April 14th, I have attached them via Adobe Acrobat. It is perfectly alright with me if you wish to post them.
You are right in apparently thinking that I obviously did not know about Tribe’s statement to you regarding my posting his comment on my blog. I find Tribe’s remarks “remarkable,” shall I very tactfully say? The reason they are “remarkable” is that after being explicitly told on September 13th by an email of 5:03 p.m. that “you may respond if you wish” to posted criticisms of him, he then was “able” to quickly write a response that he posted at 5:29 p.m. on September 13th, less than half an hour later, and he was then explicitly told the following in an email posted on September 14th at 3 p.m., after he had been able to respond within less than thirty minutes to the initial email: “Thank you for your email. I would like to post it, along with this response, but will not do so if you object. Please let me know if you do object.” Then, after some substantive comments, he was again told, “As said, please let me know if you object to the posting of your email and this response.” Tribe did not object, and his response was then posted at 11:26 a.m. on September 16th, after a lapse of over forty hours.
Need I say explicitly that Professor Tribe’s ability to act less than half an hour after receiving my email of 5:03 p.m. on September 13th makes what he said to you more than a little “remarkable”?
I have appended below the relevant email correspondence between myself and Professor Tribe, and suggest that you post it too, as I shall.
Let me conclude by saying, in good humor, which I hope is the way it is taken, that I hope we can now stop exchanging emails so that I can get back to the business of writing the post on Summers, Kagan and Tribe.
All best wishes.
Lawrence R. Velvel, Dean
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel email@example.com
Date: Monday, September 13, 2004 5:03 PM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Re: Velvel on National Affairs Web Log - The Ogletree Transgression
September 13, 2004
Professor Laurence H. Tribe
Harvard Law School
1511 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
Dear Professor Tribe:
In the attached response to a blog (which is also attached ), Michael Parenti has made some points which, I believe, are likely to be thought very acute by readers. He also made a comment regarding a statement which the Globe quoted you as making. I feel that fairness dictates that Mr. Parenti’s response be forwarded to you so that you may respond if you wish.
Lawrence R. Velvel
From: Larry Tribe
Date: Monday, September 13, 2004 5:29 PM
To: 'Dean Lawrence R. Velvel'
RE: Velvel on National Affairs Web Log - The Ogletree Transgression
Dear Dean Velvel:
I very much appreciate your letting me see both your long and thought-provoking statement and Michael Parenti's shorter but no less pointed critique. The fact that Mr. Parenti takes a humorous jab at me as his parting shot doesn't in itself lead me to put down the other matters on which I'm working. Some of those matters are quite pressing and involve writing deadlines that I have to give priority over my thus far entirely tangential involvement in this sad episode. I like Charles Ogletree as a person and continue to have enormous respect for much of the important work he has done as a lawyer and as an academic. What I told the boston globe about the way in which he has overextended himself was not intended to be a complete explanation or justification of anything but a purely factual description. I don't see it as my place either to offer excuses for my colleagues' and friends' missteps or to pile on when the world is already heaping calumny upon them. That I personally believe Professor Ogletree to be a person of great talent and basic integrity, when it's not my role to judge him, seems to me a fact that shouldn't draw me involuntarily into a protracted exchange of views simply because I was willing to answer a couple of questions from a newspaper reporter and tried to do so as truthfully as I could. As to the larger problem you describe -- the problem of writers, political office-seekers, judges and other high government officials passing off the work of others as their own -- I think you're focusing on a phenomenon of some significance. I do wish, though, that its exploration could be separated, in the interest of basic human kindness and simple decency as well as that of accuracy, from public excoriation of individuals and episodes about which your knowledge is necessarily limited.
Best regards, Larry Tribe
Laurence H. Tribe Carl M. Loeb University Professor Harvard University Hauser Hall 420 1575 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 office: 617-495-4621
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 3:00 PM
To: Larry Tribe
September 14, 2004
Dear Professor Tribe:
Thank you for your email. I would like to post it, along with this response, but will not do so if you object. Please let me know if you do object.
With regard to the last sentence of your letter, let me say this. I often think of major philosophical and societal problems in the context of concrete cases. Indeed, philosophical and societal ideas are useful only in the context of such cases. In the abstract, divorced from life, they are of little or no consequence. The Ogletree matter is a concrete case illustrating widespread problems, so it seems proper to discuss the overall problems and the concrete case together. This is only the more true because the problems involved have received so little attention and are the subject of so little general concern.
Beyond this, if kindness and decency require that one not discuss a matter on the basis of what has become known with some degree of certainty in the public sphere, then how is criticism to be leveled by any person whose "knowledge is necessarily limited" to what has appeared in that sphere? And wouldn’t we have to depend for criticisms on those who are closest to the situation, who have the most reason not to discuss it lest they or their institution be harmed, and who are least likely to publicly discuss or criticize? To be honest, while I certainly do appreciate and applaud your human concern for Professor Ogletree, it is nonetheless difficult to believe that you, one of the great champions of civil liberties in our generation, would make the point you made were this a case involving first amendment rights.
My fine secretary sends you her regards. She is the former Rosa Martins, who knew you when she used to work for Professors Andrews, Horowitz and Surrey in the early 1980s.
As said, please let me know if you object to the posting of your email and this response.
All best wishes.
Lawrence R. Velvel
April 13, 2005
Statement of Professor Laurence H. Tribe
When a magazine article last fall identified several passages and phrases in my
1985 book, God Save This Honorable Court, that were not properly attributed to
Professor Henry Abraham’s 1974 book, Justices and Presidents, I reviewed both books
in an effort to try to determine what had happened two decades earlier. In a letter I sent
at once to Prof. Abraham, I wrote that, while I had singled out his book in a bibliographic
note as the “leading political history of Supreme Court appointments,” that general
acknowledgement was no substitute for more precise attribution. I promptly did the only
thing I thought I could do to set things right: I issued a public statement apologizing to
Prof. Abraham, acknowledging my lapse and accepting full responsibility for it.
For over six months, I have said nothing further about this 20-year-old error, even
as I have seen some mischaracterize it as intentional theft of another’s ideas and have
watched as my character and integrity have been impugned. I did not think I should
comment while President Summers and Dean Kagan reviewed the results of the inquiry
they asked President Bok and Professors Knowles and Verba to conduct.
President Summers and Dean Kagan have now issued a joint statement concurring
that what I did 20 years ago was a significant lapse in proper academic practice but
adding that the unattributed material related more to maters of form than of substance
and stating their firm conviction “that the error was the product of inadvertence rather
No statement can erase the fact of my having been less careful than I should have
been in my 1985 book, and today I want to reiterate my apology for that error and my
assumption of responsibility for it. At the same time, I am gratified that the University’s
inquiry found no basis for accusations of dishonesty or of intellectual theft. Therefore,
like the University, I now consider the matter closed and wil not comment further about it.
April 13, 2005
Statement of president Lawrence Summers and
Dean Elena Kagan
This past fall, a magazine article contended that a 1985 book by Professor Laurence H. Tribe of Harvard Law School, entitled God Save This Honorable Court, contained a number of passages or phrases not appropriately attributed to a 1974 book by Professor Henry Abraham of the University of Virginia, entitled Justices and Presidents.
After learning of this report and reviewing the books in question, Professor Tribe promptly issued a public statement acknowledging his failure to properly attribute some of the material identified in the magazine article, and taking full responsibility for that failure. He also sent a letter of apology to Professor Abraham.
Regarding the matter as one warranting examination, we jointly asked three distinguished faculty members – Derek Bok, President Emeritus, Jeremy Knowles, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Sidney Verba, Pforzheimer University Professor and Harvard University Librarian – to inquire into the circumstances by reviewing the materials and speaking with the individuals principally involved. They in turn reported their factual findings to us.
With the benefit of this inquiry, and as publicly acknowledged by Professor Tribe himself, it is apparent that his book contained various brief passages and phrases that echo or overlap with material in the Abraham book, and that he failed to provide appropriate attribution for them. We have taken note that the relevant conduct took place two decades ago, that Professor Tribe’s book (written without footnotes and for a general audience) mentioned the Abraham book in concluding bibliographic note, and that the unattributed material related more to matters of phrasing than to fundamental ideas. We are also firmly convinced that the error as the product of inadvertence rather than proper academic practice – as does Professor Tribe himself. The failure of an author to attribute sources properly, however inadvertent the error, is a matter of serious concern in an academic community.
We have conveyed these conclusions and concerns to Professor Tribe, and now consider the matter closed. In line with usual University practice, we intend no further comment on the matter.