Monday, May 02, 2005

Re: A Question of Honesty

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
Date: Friday, April 29, 2005 10:35 AM
To: AuthorSkeptics
Subject: Re: A question of honesty

April 29, 2005

Dear AuthorSkeptics:

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 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.)

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.

Sincerely yours,

Lawrence R. Velvel

----- Original Message -----

From: "AuthorSkeptics" <>
To: "Dean Lawrence R. Velvel"
Sent: Thursday, April 28, 2005 4:28 PM
Subject: Re: A question of honesty

Dean Velvel:

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.



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