Thursday, November 29, 2007

Read 'Em And Weep For Harvard

November 29, 2007

Re: Read ’Em And Weep For Harvard.

In 2004-2005, and on a few occasions again in 2006-2007, I wrote about ghostwriting done for leading academics, leading doctors and others who commit moral fraud by claiming the work as their own. Ghostwriting done for famous Harvard law professors was the original impetus for this work. To a considerable extent the existence of this ghostwriting at Harvard had to be deduced by logic based on statements made by the “accused,” by parsing statements made by the “accused.”

The subject has now been further pursued in an article by a recent Harvard graduate and former Wall Street Journal reporter named Jacob Hale Russell. The article, called A Million Little Writers, is in the November/December 2007 issue of 02138, which I am told is a new glossy magazine for Harvard alumni.

Russell has obviously done significant legwork and has come up with actual facts on the ground, whereas I had to rely on deductions -- damn good deductions, I think, but mere deductions nonetheless. And, based on Russell’s work, the situation at Harvard is far worse than even I suspected. The situation is shocking, horrifying, sickening, a total disgrace. Heads should roll. Faculty and administrators at the law school, and elsewhere too in the university, should be summarily fired for committing intellectual fraud or for condoning it.

As a matter of full disclosure I should say that, when preparing his piece, Russell spoke to me briefly on the phone -- perhaps for 15 minutes or so -- and received copies of a number of my blogs on the matter. But he has gone worlds beyond what I knew or wrote. Due to the power of his reporting and revelations, I shall have more to say in future about the horrifying -- and, unhappy to say, since 1960 the all too American, since 1960 the perhaps quintessentially American -- immoral fraudulence that has taken place at Harvard, at the school which sets the tone for the American academic world and much else besides in these United States. In the meanwhile, however, I am, with Russell’s permission, appending his article so that other people, who otherwise would have no reason to know that his article exists, can read his description of what has been going on in Cambridge. As we used to say when either bad or particularly good face-up cards were laid on the poker table during the course of a hand, and when the winning hand was shown after the betting was finished, “Read ’em and weep.” Weep for Harvard. Weep for the academic world. Weep for an America where immoral fraudulence is so de rigueur that reports of it don’t even raise an eyebrow among the powerful, but are instead regarded by them as simply the way everyday business is done.

A Million Little Writers
Welcome to the world of celebrity academics–and the behind-the-scenes scribes who help make their fame and fortune possible.
by Jacob Hale Russell
November/December 2007
In celebrity-driven academia, "Getting ahead ... means establishing a personal reputation and denying it, to the extent possible, to rivals and even to assistants."
In September 2004, Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, found himself having to admit that his latest book, All Deliberate Speed, contained six paragraphs lifted verbatim from a book by Yale professor Jack Balkin, What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said. Equally surprising was the fact that Ogletree hadn’t known about the plagiarism, which occurred in a passage about the history of desegregation efforts, until he was told of it by Balkin himself.
“I accept full responsibility for this error,” Ogletree said in a statement. But some readers of that statement might have gotten a different impression: Ogletree attributed the plagiarism to two research assistants: “Material from Professor Jack Balkin’s book … was inserted … by one of my assistants for the purpose of being reviewed, researched, and summarized by another research assistant with proper attribution … Unfortunately, the second assistant, under the pressure of meeting a deadline, inadvertently deleted this attribution and edited the text as though it had been written by me. The second assistant then sent a revised draft to the publisher.”
It was a curious admission. In other words, at least some of Ogletree’s manuscript was sent to his publisher without having been read by the person supposed to have written it. Yet to Ogletree, the crime was not that someone else had written the material, just that it wasn’t the person Ogletree expected to write it.
But check the title page of All Deliberate Speed and the Library of Congress catalog information, and Ogletree’s name stands alone. An impressive total of nine students are listed in the acknowledgements as a “deeply committed group of researchers,” but there’s not a hint that their words appear verbatim in the book—or, at least, there wasn’t until something went wrong.
Derek Bok, one of the two professors appointed by the law school to review the episode, barely raised an eyebrow over the apparent use of uncredited ghostwriters. As he told the Boston Globe at the time, “There was no deliberate wrongdoing at all … He marshaled his assistants and parcelled out the work and in the process some quotation marks got lost”—a description that probably sounded flip to any author who has ever been plagiarized. Ogletree was “reprimanded,” but suffered no tangible consequences.
Which is probably why little seems to have changed with the way Ogletree creates the written work to which he assigns his name; a student familiar with Ogletree’s writing process on a current book, as well as op-eds and briefs for law cases, says that, three years after the plagiarism scandal, Ogletree still parcels out the work to a group of about 10 students on his payroll. The distinguished professor of law will review, but generally leave untouched, the writing of his most trusted researchers. He then puts his name on top of it.
And, to be fair, Ogletree is hardly alone: A growing number of books attributed to Harvard professors are composed in exactly this manner.
When we buy books off best seller lists these days, we almost expect to read the work of more than the named author: his backstage researchers, editors, and agents, maybe even a ghostwriter. Professional athletes admit that they haven’t read the “autobiographies” that carry their names; thriller writer James Patterson has six books coming out this year, thanks to the little-known co-authors who work with him; some popular authors, such as Robert Ludlum and V.C. Andrews, even continue writing books after they’re dead, thanks to the help of hired ghosts.
One might think that the ivory tower should and could resist such commercialism. If nowhere else, the provenance of an idea ought still to matter in academia; the authenticity of authorship should remain a truism. After all, one of the reasons scholars are granted tenure is so they can write free of the commercial pressures of the publishing world, taking as long as they need to get things right. And, whether in the sciences or the humanities, the world of scholarship has always prioritized the proper crediting of sources and co-contributors.
That image of academia may be idealistic, but most scholars still profess allegiance to it, and it is held up to undergraduate and graduate students as the proper way to conduct their own research and writing, reinforced by strict regulations regarding student plagiarism. As the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Student Handbook states, “Students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action, and ordinarily required to withdraw from the College.”
Students—but not professors. Because, in any number of academic offices at Harvard, the relationship between “author” and researcher(s) is a distinctly gray area. A young economics professor hires seven researchers, none yet in graduate school, several of them pulling 70-hour work-weeks; historians farm out their research to teams of graduate students, who prepare meticulously written memos that are closely assimilated into the finished work; law school professors “write” books that acknowledge dozens of research assistants without specifying their contributions. These days, it is practically the norm for tenured professors to have research and writing squads working on their publications, quietly employed at stages of co-authorship ranging from the non-controversial (photocopying) to more authorial labor, such as significant research on topics central to the final work, to what can only be called ghostwriting.
The issue is hardly confined to the Harvard faculty: Researchers have been blamed in other recent high-profile cases of academic fraud. Roger Shepherd, a former professor at the New School in New York, attributed apparent plagiarism in a 2002 book to a researcher who allegedly inserted verbatim material from another professor’s book; material that Shepherd subsequently forgot to rewrite. Historian Stephen Ambrose was found to have extensively plagiarized one of his books, Wild Blue; the prolific author relied on his five children for research aid. Doris Kearns Goodwin, then a Harvard overseer, was found to have inadvertently plagiarized from numerous other works in her 1987 book, The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. And, of course, 2006 saw the much-publicized Kaavya Viswanathan episode, in which the Harvard sophomore with a lucrative book contract was found to have plagiarized her novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.
Still, the blurring of authorial lines might be a particular problem for Harvard’s faculty. Harvard professors are, in theory, held to a high standard, but they also have more tempting opportunities for lucrative, popular writing than professors at lesser-known institutions. (And, frequently, larger budgets with which to pay researchers.) The cult of celebrity that Harvard’s high-profile professors often cultivate requires a production line of unnamed accomplices who help maintain the professor’s prolific output—and status as an intellectual star.
“Harvard bears a certain amount of responsibility over and above everybody else,” says Lawrence Velvel, dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, who has written about plagiarism on his blog. “Harvard sets the tone for the university world. When you get people at Harvard doing these kinds of things, it sets a horrendous example for other people.”
Former Dean of the College Harry Lewis calls this trend the “atelier phenomenon,” likening it to Renaissance painters whose assistants could mimic their style and thus permit the named artists to increase their output—and profit. “The celebrity professor is a new phenomenon and not a good one,” says Lewis. In celebrity-driven academia, “getting ahead … means beating other people, which means establishing a personal reputation and denying it, to the extent possible, to rivals and even to assistants.
“This surely is not healthy,” Lewis says. “We are supposed to be in the business of creating the future for our students, not using our students as labor to bolster our status in the world.”
Beyond its obvious practical consequences, such as incidents of plagiarism, the research-assistant-driven culture raises questions about the core of the academic enterprise. Outsourced work is partly a response to time constraints; it allows a professor to both produce more—more books, more op-eds—and have more time for non-research work, such as appearing on television, taking on pro bono legal cases, and starting research centers. With such aims, a professor is often pursuing fundamentally different goals than the pursuit of knowledge: The frequent publication of quickly written popular books generally has more to do with the pursuit of fame and material success. Publish the book, land on TV, sign up with a speaker’s bureau for five figures a speech, maybe even get appointed to corporate and charitable boards. Suddenly, your income in the low six figures can double or triple.
A scholarly process thus devalued—emphasizing quantity and sales, not integrity and originality—must change the university’s character. Observers of the ivory tower over the past few decades have consistently remarked on a trend toward corporate values, such as the pressure to monetize scientific research and the use of public relations tactics to buff a university’s public image. Corporatization is equally visible in some professors’ attempts to “brand” themselves—not just by publishing popular books, but by choosing opportunities based on how much exposure they will generate.
Nobody epitomizes the fame obtainable by a professor more than Alan Dershowitz. The Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School racked up 5,778 media mentions between 1995 and 2000, making him the 12th-most-mentioned among both the living and dead, according to Richard Posner’s critical look at the production of popular work by academics, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. (If anything, his visibility has only increased since then.) Dershowitz has published 12 books since 2000, of which only two were for university presses. Last year, he also wrote 13 op-eds and one law review article. He’s big on the speaking circuit and also finds the time to take on high-profile criminal and civil cases, such as that of Harvard donor Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire financier charged with soliciting prostitution. Dershowitz blogs for the Huffington Post, and he also repackages his own work; Blasphemy: How the Religious Right Is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence, released this year, is his 2003 book America Declares Independence almost verbatim, with a few new chapters tacked on.
Those who work with Dershowitz say he does his own writing—by hand, apparently to protect himself from allegations of plagiarism. That didn’t stop former DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein and Nation writer Alexander Cockburn from accusing Dershowitz of plagiarism in his book, The Case for Israel, an accusation Dershowitz has vehemently denied.
Dershowitz is, however, notorious on the law school campus for his use of researchers. (The law school itself is particularly known for this practice, probably because lawyers are used to having paralegals and clerks who do significant research and writing; students familiar with several law school professors’ writing processes say that Dershowitz reflects the norm in principle, if to a greater degree in practice.)
Dershowitz generally employs one or two full-time researchers, three or four part-timers, and a handful of students who do occasional work—all paid at $11.50 per hour. (Since Dershowitz doesn’t get enough in the $7,500/year research budget the law school accords him, he often has to pay that hourly rate out of his own pocket.) Several students who have worked with him describe his hiring practices as almost arbitrary—barely looking at résumés, hiring anyone who asks him for a job, sometimes having his wife interview applicants, and often forgetting those who’ve worked with him in the past. One long-serving researcher was a local high-school student.
Several of his researchers say that Dershowitz doesn’t subscribe to the scholarly convention of researching first, then drawing conclusions. Instead, as a lawyer might, he writes his conclusions, leaving spaces where he’d like sources or case law to back up a thesis. On several occasions where the research has suggested opposite conclusions, his students say, he has asked them to go back and look for other cases, or simply to omit the discrepant information. “That’s the way it’s done; a piecemeal, ass-backwards way,” says one student who has firsthand experience with the writing habits of Dershowitz and other tenured colleagues. “They write first, make assertions, and farm out [the work] to research assistants to vet it. They do very little of the research themselves.”
When one student couldn’t find a desired source for an HLS professor’s project, a Harvard research librarian commented, “Isn’t that the opposite of how you’re supposed to do it?” Other students point out that Dershowitz has been at the law school for four decades, and thus even his most apparently off-the-cuff suppositions are based on a long career of reading and practicing law. And Dershowitz does acknowledge researchers in his books.
The “atelier” is no longer the privilege of the long-tenured professor, though. One of academia’s up-and-coming darlings is Roland Fryer, an assistant professor in the economics department who began teaching at Harvard just last year. Fryer is a media star: He has appeared on CNN and been written about in the New York Times, Esquire, and this issue of 02138 (see page 34). Fryer’s group, the American Inequality Lab, works on a half-dozen or more major research areas at a time. To do so, Fryer now employs seven full-time “project managers,” mostly recent college alums, and works with dozens of others. The students, generally recent college graduates like David Toniatti, each manage a research project, from designing the methodology to collecting the data and running the numbers. Fryer writes the final papers, for which he is accorded primary authorship. “It’s him casting a vision, us working through the details, and him correcting it,” Toniatti says. “Everyone can run the regression; it’s really the idea that counts.”
Different fields have different customs; what wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in the economics department might raise havoc in English. But across the academic board, the celebrity culture poses a dilemma for young scholars: Should they simply churn out the one or two serious books necessary to get tenure, and then ignore the writing of such books to focus on opportunities that bring more exposure and money? After all, writing scholarly tomes is probably the least glamorous and least lucrative of the many opportunities open to a Harvard professor, and thus one of the easiest to either outsource or abandon.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the natural case study for this question. Gates does hugely significant work at Harvard, running the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, fundraising, and helping to build the department of African and African-American Studies. But he may be even busier on non-university business, whether it’s producing documentaries for PBS, writing for the New Yorker and the New York Times op-ed page, serving as a judge for the Pulitzer Prizes, chairing a foundation, traveling and lecturing around the world, serving on the boards of nine museums and cultural institutions, even helping the United States Postal Service pick its stamps.
As a young academic, Gates wrote two books, Figures in Black and The Signifying Monkey, revered among literary scholars for their theoretical insights on how to study and analyze African-American literature. Those may well be the last important scholarly books Gates will ever write. His literary work now tends to be more cursory—introductions, overseeing the production of an encyclopedia backed by Microsoft, publishing his PBS work. No one seems to care: In October 2006, Gates was named the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor—a university professorship being the highest honor Harvard awards its scholars. The endower of Gates’ chair, Alphonse Fletcher Jr., is also the endower of the foundation that Gates chairs, the Fletcher Foundation.
For better or worse, Gates’ career, and the huge rewards that he has reaped from it, send the message to young scholars that scholarship is not an end in itself but a means to an end—to easier work, better-paying gigs, greater mainstream acclaim. At which point, the tough grind of academic writing can be farmed out to other, more-junior scholars—and possibly lesser minds—pulling their way up the academic ladder.
Many student researchers wouldn’t discuss their research work for this article, even with guarantees of anonymity, because they fear jeopardizing a professor’s future support. This secrecy, combined with the fact that the line between research and writing is often fuzzy, keeps the system obtuse and subject to abuse. Except where it produces outright plagiarism, it’s essentially unregulated by Harvard policy—and even implicitly sanctioned, as Bok’s quote about Ogletree’s case suggested. Yet if the undergraduates doing this research attempted the same outsourcing of written work in their term papers, they’d face disciplinary proceedings, and several student researchers told me they felt uneasy about this cognitive dissonance between expectations for their own work and that of their professors.
What’s perhaps more surprising than professors’ reliance upon student researcher/writers is the general lack of outrage or even concern the habit generates. Even students who work for the most notorious professorial slackers told me that they appreciate the opportunities to work with faculty, to see how a book is written (or, perhaps more accurately, produced), to get paid and receive a recommendation letter. There’s a cachet to putting words in a famous professor’s mouth. “It’s really cool to say, ‘Hey, I wrote that paragraph that ended up in the Times,’” says one student who works with one of the most prominent Harvard faculty members. “I don’t need the byline—I can tell my friends.”
Not only does Harvard not seem to prohibit, punish, or even frown upon the use of academic researcher-cum-ghostwriters, sometimes the university even subsidizes it. The Office of Faculty Development and Diversity—created in the wake of the controversy surrounding Lawrence Summers’ comments on women in science—employs a “research assistant” named Mae Clarke whose publicly available job description sounds strikingly like that of a ghostwriter. The diversity office website says: “Ms. Mae Clarke serves as the primary Research Assistant for Dr. [Evelynn] Hammonds who is working on a manuscript of the history of race in medicine and science in the United States. Ms. Clarke’s responsibilities include organizing, drafting, and editing materials for the preparation of the manuscript and related papers. She … will serve as copy editor for drafts of chapters. Ms. Clarke also supports production of other written works.”
Clarke is on sabbatical and couldn’t be reached for comment, and—through a spokesperson—Dr. Hammonds declined to comment. In other words, Hammonds used a ghost-speaker to avoid answering a question about her ghostwriter. It’s no wonder some students get cynical about the manner in which they research and write their own work.
The quality of academic work often suffers in correlation to the prevalence of ghostwriters and other literary assistants. Many of the books produced in this way just aren’t as good as they could be had their “authors” not fobbed off so much work on research assistants. As appears to be the case with Dershowitz, many scholarly books that are collectively researched and written aren’t designed to last; they hit the remainders table quickly, and are rarely cited in other academic works (a conventional metric of a book’s scholarly significance).
In that sense, these authors are capitalizing on the Harvard brand without respecting its deeper value: They’re using the name as a keyword in their bio to make a book sell better, but they’re ignoring the fundamental mission of a research university—the creation and exploration of significant, durable knowledge. “We [in the academic community] are afraid of making subjective judgments, so page counts and books-per-year provide nice, objective substitutes,” says Harry Lewis. “People are rewarded for writing a lot even if it isn’t very good or even very academic.”
Changes in academic publishing have also contributed to the rise of the research assistant. Over the past decade, academic presses have significantly decreased the number of books they publish, and several have shut their doors altogether, a decline due in part to financial pressures on publishing generally. Much of what professors write these days is published by popular presses and intended to be sold at Barnes & Noble. In contrast to the multiple peer reviews done by academic publishers, these trade presses don’t vet books with much rigor. They worry more about libel than factual accuracy, and so manuscripts are read by lawyers, not fact-checkers, who would be more likely to spot plagiarism and other sloppy work. Trade presses also discourage extensive end matter and footnotes, making it easier for scholars to cut corners on the research. “They are more worried about spelling than about sources,” says one Harvard research assistant. Inevitably, mistakes are made.
Harvard professors writing quietly and alone have penned some of the most significant books of the last century. At 538 pages of dense prose, John Rawls’ Theory of Justice, first published in 1971, could hardly have been designed to be a bestseller, but his concepts, like a “veil of ignorance,” have permeated modern politics and law. Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, published in 1977, before he left Harvard for the Institute for Advanced Study, is now in its fourth edition and stands as one of the most significant ethical analyses of war.
More such great and lasting books will surely emerge from Harvard. But will we really know for sure who wrote them?*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at

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In addition, one hour long television book shows, shown on Comcast, on which Dean Velvel, interviews an author, one hour long television panel shows, also shown on Comcast, on which other MSL personnel interview experts about important subjects, conferences on historical and other important subjects held at MSL, presentations by authors who discuss their books at MSL, a radio program (What The Media Won’t Tell You) which is heard on the World Radio Network (which is on Sirrus and other outlets in the U.S.), and an MSL journal of important issues called The Long Term View, can all be accessed on the internet, including by video and audio. For TV shows go to:; for book talks go to:; for conferences go to:; for The Long Term View go to:¬_LTV.htm; and for the radio program go to:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gee, Gordon, That's Great

November 20, 2007

Re: Gee, Gordon, That’s Great.

Dear Colleagues:

Ya gotta love it, baby. It shows once again that money talks and bovine defecation walks. It shows once again that Milton Friedman, he of the huge (if distorted) mind and pygmy moral sense, was right, and so was Ronald Reagan, the sainted gipper of minimal mind and tiny moral sense: in America, it’s money uber alles, in fact, its money ist alles.

What am I referring to? Well, I am referring, of course, to the latest annual issue of money in academia, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s November 16, 2007 survey of the compensation paid to presidents of all sorts of public and private colleges, universities, and specialized schools.

The Chronicle has outdone itself this time (or maybe I just fail to recollect that it has done the same thing previously). This time it has an entire “pull out” section, called Executive Compensation[,] What Leaders Make, with all the juicy information. It is just like the juicy pull out sections from the National Law Journal with pertinent financial and size information about The 250 Largest [Law] Firms, and is not so entirely different from certain issues of the New York Times Magazine devoted to a single topic like well dressed men whom women love or gorgeous women who do this or that. The front page of “Executive Compensation” is, naturally, a lure, with pictures of ten heads of academic bodies and their salaries, which in four cases are north of 700 thousand, although pity the poor (in both senses of the word) priest-president of St. Louis University, whose salary is said to be zero, nada, nothing, zip. Pity also the head of the Nevada System of Higher Education, whose compensation is said under his picture to be 26 thousand bucks. The Chronicle doesn’t tell you, however, that he is filthy rich and has given hundreds of millions of dollars to academic institutions.

Inside, the Section is just as juicy, maybe even more juicy, often showing that the academic world is hardly different from the commercial one, though still at a less munificent level. Purely in terms of statistics, there is a table showing the compensation of the Highest Paid Leaders of Public Universities, a table sometimes breaking down (so to speak) top earners by base salary, bonus pay, deferred compensation, payments for corporate directorships and retirement pay, and a semi table of Top Departure Pay For Public – University Leaders Who Stepped Down in 2006-7.

There is a semi table of Top Pay Among Private-University Presidents Who Stepped Down in 2005-2006, and bar graphs of Trends in the Median Compensation of Private-College Presidents. (By 2005 the median at research universities was north of half a mill.) There is a table of “Leaders in Total Annual Compensation at Private, Special – Focus Institutions 2005-6, where most of the leaders were the heads of medical schools. A couple of the docs earn well north of a mill, and from the table one is tempted to remark that any doc who heads a medical school but doesn’t make at least 600 thousand should get himself a brain transplant. One of his or her school’s neurosurgeons should be able to do it.

There are numerous other tables and semi tables. One compares the base (non-bonus) compensation of the presidents of universities with the salaries of their schools’ football coaches. It’s a scream. The coaches usually make two, three or four times what the presidents make. Mark Emmert, the president of the University of Washington makes 752 thou; Tyrone Willingham, who can hardly win for losing, makes 1.4 mill. At Virginia Tech, the president makes 659 thou, but the coach made 2.008 mill. At Texas the numbers were 599 thou and 2.66 mill. At Central Florida, the president made 584 thou, but Coach George O’Leary made 1.03 mill – and this although O’Leary was the guy who in effect got fired from Notre Dame as soon as he was hired, because he had lied on his resume. At Florida the president makes 441 thou, while Coach Urban Meyer (is there anybody named Rural?) was paid 1.52 mill. At Michigan, the president’s base salary was 643 thou (she makes about 300 or 400 more in other ways), while Coach Lloyd Carr made 1.45 mill -- and he can’t even beat Appalachian State, not to mention his recent difficulties with that other State, the one from Ohio. At a mere 1.45 mill, it’s no wonder he quit.

The whole president/coach thing is, as said, an absolute scream. It reminds me of Babe Ruth’s comment when someone told him he made more money than President Herbert Hoover “I had a better year,” Ruth said. Obviously. The President was Hoover. Of course, unlike Ruth, the coaches don’t always have such a good year. But then, neither do the presidents quite often.

The tables often carry implicit humor, as you can see (if humor is what you call it). The articles can be even funnier in their way. One article, about the pay for presidents of community colleges, is entitled Community-College Chiefs’ Pay Lags Behind Presidents With Similar Loads. The presidents with similar loads are, I gather, the heads of four year universities. The top ten of them at public four year universities made in the high 600s, the 700s, and in one case the 800s. (One problem with the figures though is that they include not just salary, but deferred compensation, bonuses, and what not. So it is sometimes hard to make wholly valid comparisons.) At private universities presidents made more, sometimes close to two million, with other presidents making well north of “only” one million.

Sometimes, at both public and private universities the figures get messed up when payments made due to recent retirements are included (e.g., recent payments of deferred comp, annuities). When this happens, pay can be shown as four or five million in a given year, but this is misleading and one has to believe the Chronicle’s methods of showing compensation could not earn a passing grade in a basic statistics course because incommensurables are lumped together.

Nonetheless, the basic idea that people are getting a lot of jack comes through. And in the case of the president whose total comp was over four million due to some kind of additional payments upon retirement, it is perversely humorous that he was forced out for abusing his expense account. Such greed is worthy of a corporate CEO -- a Dennis Kozlowski maybe, with his amazing shower curtain, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, back to community college presidents. Median total compensation here is said to be “only” something over a quarter million, although there are some who make between 350 and 610 thousand a year. I loved a statement in the interview with one of these high rollers, named Phil, whose compensation was just over 400 thou; he is head of a community college in San Francisco (a city considered to be hardship duty, right?). The Chronicle said this fellow makes more than any other president of a large community college in California, and “His pay is a far cry from the $80,000 or so he made as president at Cape Cod Community College in the 1980s,” although he says his skills are too. ‘“Do I feel guilty at all about being one of the highest-paid college presidents in the country?”’, he asked. ‘“Absolutely not.”’

Way to go, Phil. Don’t be embarrassed. You should be paid 800, and you should say so. After all, as the article makes clear, you work hard. You’re always meeting with people. You’re not “one of the highest paid college presidents in the country; you’re only one of the highest paid community college presidents in the country. You deserve better. A lousy 400 thousand per year will not get you a house on Pacific Heights. Go for it -- be like Bob Woodward: tell them how great you are. Tell them you want at least a million and a half.

Then there is the article wholly devoted to Gordon Gee. Yep. A whole article devoted to one guy. He is the President of Ohio State University (or, more accurately, The Ohio State University, although the Chronicle does not seem to know this even though it is a newspaper about academia). Why would a whole article be devoted to one President, and be entitled, no less, The View From The Top: E. Gordon Gee Goes Public. It is not, I think, because in 2005-2006, the last year for which the Chronicle has figures for private universities (it apparently has 2006-2007 figures for public institutions), Gee made a cool 1.8 mill as President of Vanderbilt. (The President of Hopkins made more.) Nope, I think, rather, it is because Gordon has previously been the President of West Virginia, Colorado, Brown, Ohio State (the first time) and Vanderbilt, before returning to Ohio State for a second time. A cruel, misguided cynic might think Gee can’t hold a job. But that is dubious since people keep wanting him.

Some of the statements Gee made for the Chronicle are pretty funny, if perversely. “I am the senior university president in the country,” he announced. Well, there have been presidents for longer than Gee’s 28 years, the Chronicle said, but can anyone match his record of five different universities and six different presidencies? Only Kenny Lofton has moved around more, as far as I know. Anyway, can you imagine saying even in jest in an interview (because in print a jesting intent might not come through), “I am the senior university president in the country”? I don’t remember hearing anything like that since Muhammad Ali constantly proclaimed “I am the greatest.” He was. Is Gee?

Then, too, the peripatetic Gee “has promised that he is in his last presidency.” But this is “a claim he also made at Vanderbilt and [before that] at Brown.” So, understandably, Gee says that “I said it twice before” and “I’m not sure that even I believe myself.” Welcome to the club, Gordon. Get in line. There is a long list of people who don’t believe you. The sultans and sheiks are starting universities in such as Dubai and Qatar, you know. How do you feel about sand?

But Gee is not about money. (Don’t be misled by his 1.8 mill at Vanderbilt.) “After all,” says the Chronicle, “more-lucrative posts await, certainly in private industry.” ‘“If it was just about money, I could do substantially better,’” says Gee. Right. Private industry can hardly wait to hire as top dog a guy who tells you he will stay, but in reality, as shown by his record, will hit the road in a few years, maybe in two or three. Lack of stability and continuity -- that’s what private businesses want.

But, doubtlessly to prove it’s not about money, Gee points out that he will be making less at The Ohio State University than at Vanderbilt, with a pay package of about a million a year. (Can you live in Columbus on that?) However, he also “will be eligible for some form of performance based pay, the details of which he says have yet to be formally hashed out.” I am in the fortunate and unusual position of having learned, and being able to disclose to you, what the performance pay will be based on. Gee will receive a bonus of $1 million every year that Ohio State beats Michigan in the Horseshoe, and a bonus of $2 million if Ohio beats Michigan in the Big House. What’s more, every time Ohio beats Michigan in two consecutive years, the performance based pay will include an extra one million dollars the second year. If Ohio wins three straight years, this extra amount will be doubled, so that Gee will get an extra bonus of two million in the third year. The extra amount will double again to four million if Ohio wins a fourth straight year. And again to eight million in a fifth straight year. And so on.

The Ohio State Board of Trustees was reluctant at first to accept this basis for performance pay. Three of The Ohio State University’s Trustees had learned arithmetic, and were concerned that the bonus might end up bankrupting the university and maybe even the whole state of Ohio. After all the extra bonus would be $512 million in the eleventh consecutive year of victories over Michigan and $1.24 billion in the twelfth year. But finally the deal was done because Ohio’s Trustees decided that, what the hell, Michigan is bound to win sometime, maybe once every five or six years, so that the performance bonus will then drop back down to only the initial figure the next time Ohio beats Michigan (which should be the year after the loss). And if it costs Ohio an extra 16 mill because Ohio beats Michigan five straight years, the Trustees thought this was worth it. In fact, they voted that it would be worth it to beat Michigan 11 or 12 straight years even though this would cost Ohio over half a billion in the eleventh year and then over a billion in the twelfth year.

Upon hearing of this deal, the Michigan Trustees debated a motion to throw the Ohio State game for 20 straight years on the theory that this would bankrupt The Ohio State University and the whole State of Ohio, both of which would then go out of business so that Michigan would never have to worry about losing to Ohio State again.

One other little known fact is that, upon learning of Gordon Gee’s performance pay deal, the President of Michigan decided that it would be a pretty nifty way of increasing her own inadequate total compensation of a million a year. So she demanded the same performance bonus from Michigan’s Trustees as Gee is getting from the Ohio State Trustees. But the President of Michigan is no fool -- she didn’t get to be president of Michigan by being stupid. She didn’t demand a performance bonus for beating Ohio State. She demanded one for beating Appalachian State.

Being desperate to achieve this goal, and having no concerns that the performance bonus would constantly increase because of consecutive victories, Michigan’s Trustees immediately agreed to the president’s demand.*

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

In addition, one hour long television book shows, shown on Comcast, on which Dean Velvel, interviews an author, one hour long television panel shows, also shown on Comcast, on which other MSL personnel interview experts about important subjects, conferences on historical and other important subjects held at MSL, presentations by authors who discuss their books at MSL, a radio program (What The Media Won’t Tell You) which is heard on the World Radio Network (which is on Sirrus and other outlets in the U.S.), and an MSL journal of important issues called The Long Term View, can all be accessed on the internet, including by video and audio. For TV shows go to:; for book talks go to:; for conferences go to:; for The Long Term View go to:¬_LTV.htm; and for the radio program go to:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Re: The Longitudinal Lesson Of Paul Krugman’s “The Conscience Of A Liberal.”

November 6, 2007

Re: The Longitudinal Lesson Of Paul Krugman’s “The Conscience Of A Liberal.”

Dear Colleagues:

I spent about ten days out of the country in mid and late October, after having read Paul Krugman’s The Conscience Of A Liberal. (There was no cause and effect relationship. One wonders, however, whether perhaps there should be.) I did not read Krugman’s book with the painstaking care, the repetition, the note making, the eventual outline that are de rigueur when an author will be interviewed on the one hour long television program I host, Books Of Our Time. Nor have I yet read the book with such care because for over a month neither Krugman, nor his office, nor his publisher have had the courtesy to respond one way or the other to repeated inquiries as to whether he would be willing to be interviewed on the program. Someone once said of Woodrow Wilson that he loved humanity but hated people. One too often tends to find this or analogies to it to be true of liberals.

So, not having read the book painstakingly, I did not and do not now feel I know Krugman’s book even a third as well as it is my duty to know a book when the author will be interviewed on the program. But I nonetheless know it well enough to believe that Krugman has explained where this country had been for a long period after the Civil War -- when the party of Lincoln and the idea of free labor morphed quickly and permanently, shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, into the party of oppressing fat cats; where the country had been from about 1932 until roughly the late 1960s; and what the country thereafter became and remains. Krugman’s work, I believe, is roughly analogous to a map that show an entire nation when other maps had previously shown only individual cities, particular mountainous, individual rivers. Krugman gives an overall picture timewise -- he has in a sense given us a longitudinal historical study -- of where this nation has been and is, and thereby makes it possible to know where we might want to go by understanding where we’ve been and are.

After returning to the States, I found that the Stanford historian David Kennedy had written a review of Krugman’s book for the October 21st New York Times Book Review. The review was fairly savage -- as sometimes seems almost de rigueur for book reviews -- to the point where the Sunday Times Book Review of November 4th carried three letters castigating Kennedy, largely deservedly I should think. (The historian Sean Wilentz said at the conclusion of his letter that “A reasonable person might conclude that Kennedy had his hatchet out for Krugman. His attack did not do us historians and reviewers proud.” Other letters treated Kennedy even more severely in my judgment.)

Then, in the issue of The New York Review of Books dated November 22, Michael Tomasky, Editor of The Guardian’s American website, wrote a three page review of The Conscience of a Liberal. To a greater extent than Kennedy’s, it detailed what Krugman has to say, and for this reason among others, it is, I think, a fairer review. Indeed, as is true of many pieces in NYRB, it far more closely than most reviews elsewhere fulfills a main function for which many rely on reviews in the first place. That is, it tells you a lot about what the author has to say. This is quite an important function because even those who read books incessantly can read only a small percentage of the books they would like to read. Too many reviews are too brief to fulfill the needed function. As well, far too many, maybe even most, seem to be written on the premise that book reviews, like theater and music reviews, exist to give the review’s author a chance to show how waspishly clever he or she is in putting down, in cleverly making fun of or crapping on, whatever work (or actor or singer) happens to be the victim.

I am, as well, partly taken with, yet also partly put off by, another aspect of Tomasky’s piece. Tomasky thinks Krugman is “a liberal polemicist.” To call someone a polemicist is prejorative, for it indicates one sidedness, a failure to recognize opposing facts or arguments, overwrought writing, a screed. (I suppose Tom Paine was a polemicist.) On the other hand, Tomasky thinks it good that Krugman has become what Tomasky says is called “partisan” in Washington. For

. . . persuasion of people with very different views is at best of secondary interest to him. What is of interest to him is describing things as he believes they are.

In Washington, this earns one the epithet -- as Washington prefers to think of it -- “partisan.” But too many people who are also granted valuable journalistic space spent the early Bush years in denial about the evidence that was accumulating right before their eyes, whether about official lies, or executive overreach, or rampant class warfare waged on behalf of the richest one percent against the rest of us. Mildly deploring some of these excesses while accepting others is what is meant by bipartisanship today, and Krugman is right to have none of it. As a result he has left us a much more accurate record of the Bush years than, say, The Washington Post’s David S. Broder, or some of his more celebrated New York Times colleagues.

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog or this writer’s other works that for over 40 years I have often been accused, defacto, of being intemperate, or one sided, or polemical, or partisan, or tendentious, or some other word that indicates what these words indicate. To the amazement (and consternation) of friends, colleagues and my wife, I reject all such characterizations. For if you have considered the opposing facts and arguments, and reject them as being untrue, of lesser import, or (in the case of certain alleged facts, like WMDs in Iraq) nonexistent, it is not in my judgment intemperate, partisan, one sided, polemical, or tendentious to insist on the side you believe in.

Why, then, do others feel differently? Well, as terrible as it is to say, as arrogant as some (incorrectly in my judgment) will think it to say, my view is that most often people feel differently, as people’s views toward Krugman exemplified, because they are unaware of or refuse to recognize or fail to accept the facts and arguments contrary to their positions. One is reminded of Sir Lewis Namier’s story (I believe his original surname was Bernstein) of coming back to college in England (Oxford or Cambridge, I think) after visiting his home in Mitteleuropa (Austria? Poland?) in the summer of 1914, and upon his return telling young Englishmen on campus that there would soon be a general European war because armies were massing across the border from his father’s lands. The young Englishmen hooted at him because they were ignorant of rivalries and events in Mitteleuropa and were derisive of the idea that events there could involve England in a major European war. One year later, those young Englishmen were mainly, or all, dead. One is also reminded of the scene in the movie “Gettysburg” in which George Pickett vigorously denies the Darwinian theory that man could be descended from “a ape,” and as his trump argument asserts that maybe his opponent is descended from “a ape,” and maybe even he himself is descended from “a ape,” but nobody there would say that (the sainted) Robert E. Lee is descended from “a ape.”

Ignorance, and unwillingness to accept facts or reasonable arguments, were in Pickett’s day and before, are now, and no doubt in future will be the major reason that people have and will reject the views of people like Krugman and will call persons like him polemicists, partisans, intemperate, tendentious or what have you -- even though he has so often been proven right in the fullness of time. One is really not tendentious, intemperate, etc., unless one himself refuses to recognize facts or reasonable arguments rather than having thoughtfully rejected them as untrue or insufficient, and it is the rejecters of Krugman’s views who are all more likely to be polemical, partisan, tendentious, etc. even though the nearly always wrong conventional wisdom -- as exemplified in their own statements -- proclaims them moderates.

If one wants additional proof of this, remember that Krugman’s dislike and intellectual fire are directed at George Bush and the Bushites, while fire is directed at Krugman by the people who hold Bushian views. So, call Krugman, and those of us who hold similar views, a polemicist, or intemperate, or tendentious or whatever you like, but the chances are often pretty good that you are not correct, and this writer objects to the incorrect appellation.

Which -- perhaps contradictorily – is not to say that Krugman is right about everything and has left out nothing which could oppose his views. (It may have been Niels Bohr who said a great truth is an idea which is opposed by another great truth.) I think there are some things Krugman should have paid more attention to, as will be mentioned below, but his book is nonetheless filled with truths, and, as said in the Hebrew prayer, is in part “a signpost before thine eyes.” I shall discuss a few of his points, though this emphatically is not a book review and there is here no attempt, absolutely none, to describe all or even more than a very small fraction of the views in Krugman’s book.

To me, the most major point Krugman makes is his “longitudinal” description of American history. To put the matter very briefly, he says we had a long Gilded Age in which the rich got ever richer, the poor and the working class were tromped on and remained poor and lower class, and equity was largely unknown. This Gilded Age ran, he says, up until the New Deal.

During the New Deal and until about the late 1960s or early 1970s, we had a period of growing equality. For various reasons -- the philosophy of the New Deal, the necessities of the War, the refusal of those who had been put down to stay down, taxation, etc., labor and the working class did better economically than before, the incomes and wealth of the superrich declined (taxation played a major role in this), electoral and civil rights burgeoned because political and civil rights followed in train of more widespread economic equality, and the general culture -- the prevailing ideas, the weltanschauung, call it what you will -- favored greater economic and political parity.

Then in the late 1960s and early 1970s the kind of conservatism that had ruled in the Gilded Age was brought back and financed with a vengeance by those who wanted to turn the clock back to the days before Theodore Roosevelt. The very rich financed think tanks, scholars, willing and acquiescent politicians like Reagan, and the like to create a regressive, now ascendant culture that again glorified enormous wealth, huge disparities in income and wealth, political inequality (and, one might add, foreign military adventures that made the rich ever richer).

I know enough American history, both from books and from having lived for about half the period under discussion, to know that Krugman’s basic outline is right. Fundamentally, in what Krugman calls our long Gilded Age, the rich got richer and the poor were kept down for about sixty years. Oh yes, there were the Progressives and Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, but the basic story was of a vastly unequal country. The New Deal began before I was born (a few days after Hitler invaded Poland), but not just books, but also living life and the history of my own nuclear and extended families tell me Krugman is right about the middle period. We started out as a poor immigrant family and because of changes in this country were middle class by the mid to late ’50s. Because of the sea change that, as Krugman says, occurred in a very short period because of the policies of FDR and Truman, some of my first cousins who were much older than I, an age disparity that often occurred in old country and/or poor families, went to college in their late ’20s while they held full time working class jobs (taxi drivers, photoengravers), and became professionals instead of working class. (Though it is not widely known, in 1940 only about 40 or 45 percent of the population even had high school degrees. Today about a quarter or a third, I believe, have college degrees.) And, starting in the late ’60s and early ’70s, one has seen the transition from a society whose culture favored equality to a society whose culture favors truly vast inequality -- a country where it is regarded as appropriate for CEOs to make 300 and 400 times what the average workers in their companies make and for hedge fund managers to make 1.7 billion dollars a year and pay tax at only a 15 percent rate, a country where the salary of the average guy hasn’t improved much, if at all, in constant dollars for 30 years, a country where all our politicians are owned by the rich as in the first Gilded Age and where the mass media is in thrall to the rich and powerful.

And seeing what has happened longitudinally, it is obvious to those of decent views -- a major qualification, unfortunately -- where we should want to go in the next longitudinal phase of the nation’s life. We should want to go back to, we should want to improve upon and further, the fundamental idea that permeated the country from 1932 through the late 1960s: greater equality economically, politically and legally. That is the fundamental idea, and it is really that simple.

Now, there are some things that can impinge on this goal that Krugman doesn’t mention, but which his opponents can have a field day with. Krugman, I believe, thinks that government works, that government regulations and programs can accomplish what must be done and can do so efficiently. I don’t necessarily think this because, in my experience, and in my reading, government is too often incompetent, slothful, slow and corrupt. What we need is a sea change in culture, in animating ideas. On the private side, people have to begin to believe in decent ideas instead of Gilded Age ideas. And maybe government can establish goals ala those enforced by the SEC and the Antitrust Division when they were still effective bodies, as in the ’60s. There are other advanced countries in Europe and Asia that do not share the devil take the hindmost, the poor be damned ideas that have animated this country for years - - there are countries where there is more of a culture of everyone is in it together, and that are doing at least as well as we are. So our ideas are not ones ineluctably thrust upon corrupt human nature by a misnamed providence. Other countries are different -- and we should look for and vote for politicians who understand and speak for a culture that supports what is needed, rather than the self-glorifying, self-interested political hacks who fill our halls today.

In addition to Krugman’s longitudinal argument, he makes another point that moves me greatly, one I myself have previously made to some extent. We should stop worshipping at the shrine of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. These were not the avuncular, or wise, fellows that what Krugman calls “movement conservatism” wants us to think and that it has now become popular to think and say. These were guys, as Krugman says, who would turn back the drive toward economic and political equality and a more just society, and who contributed extensively to exactly that result. As well, Goldwater (an Air Force General) was a warmonger and anti civil rights. (Reagan was not dumb enough to be a warmonger.) Also, as Krugman points out, Reagan deliberately fanned the fires of racism in order to get elected. He deliberately started his presidential campaign just outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi -- who the hell ever heard of starting a presidential campaign just outside of a small redneck southern town in Mississippi? But when you realize that Philadelphia, Mississippi is where Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were murdered, you know everything you need to know -- and you will not be surprised, either, that Reagan went to the cemetery in Bitburg, where SS men are buried.

I do not know whether Goldwater and Reagan were bad human beings, although I have some antagonistic suspicions, but I do know they favored bad policies. We should stop letting conservatives get away with worshipping and promoting worship of these characters, and with relying on them, with impunity. If the right wishes to tar itself by relying on these guys, then it should flat out be said that that is precisely what it is doing: it is tarring itself.

Two final points. One relates to the South. It has been said here many times that the one party South is the root of our problems. Krugman seems to agree and says that race is the cause. The South, he says, was part of the New Deal so long as it was the sick man of the United States, because it had so much to gain from the New Deal’s redistribution of wealth, and so long as the North did not assail Jim Crow. But once things got economically better for the South and civil rights became a Democratic Party policy, the South deserted en masse to the Republicans because of its hatred of racial equality. That surely seems right, and its switch to the Republican Party after 1965 has enabled the right wing to take over much of the country and our institutions. This will not improve much unless and until the power of the one party, right wing south to run our nation is broken. There are ways to break it; some of them have been discussed here before.

Finally, Krugman made a very disturbing point early on in his book (on p. 12). I quote:

A few months after the 2004 election I was placed under some pressure by journalistic colleagues, who said I should stop spending so much time criticizing the Bush administration and conservatives more generally. “The election settled some things,” I was told.

On its face it is hard to imagine sentences more confirmatory than these of the rightness of the widespread anger at the mass media for being incompetent, one sided shills for the Republican Party and George Bush. This is only the more true because the corruption and incompetence of the Administration and its ideas began to become clear no later than early to mid 2004, long before the 2004 election, so that “journalistic colleagues” of any perception or integrity should have known something was wrong. Yet, if Krugman truly means what his sentences say, some of these obviously unpercipient and/or venal colleagues were not only arguing against what he was doing, but were in some way pressuring him to stop it -- to stop it even though he has proven right. So . . . . who were these “journalistic colleagues?” Were they colleagues at or even editors or the publisher of the Times itself? -- who but editors or the publisher could truly place Krugman “under pressure,” the pressure, one supposes, of possibly losing his column. If it were editors, or the publisher, this is another nail in the cross of enormous New York Times mistakes that contributed extensively to the fix this country is in, mistakes such as parroting Administration lies about WMDs and refusing to break the story of the NSA spying before the 2004 election, when the story could have changed the result of the election.

But maybe the pressure Krugman speaks of was only the kind of social pressure that could flow from any colleague. If that is what it was, were the colleagues who applied pressure some of the conservative imbeciles from the Times op ed page? If so, did they do this because Krugman was making them look bad, or even stupid, as history now has, so they wanted him to stop his criticisms of positions and people they supported? Were the colleagues people on other media and, if so, were they trying to stop a dissenting voice, one which opposed them, made them look bad, and has now proven right?

Whoever and whatever the colleagues and their reasons, it is hard to imagine a more anti-free speech, more dangerous attitude -- and one now proven wrong -- than the one sought to be imposed on Krugman. The people who did it should figuratively be shot as traitors to their profession and to the freedom of the press that journalists so often, and apparently hypocritically, vaunt. No doubt Krugman does not want to and will not voluntarily disclose who they were. That conforms to tenets of confidentiality, and to the American ethos of don’t rat on somebody. Yet it is nonetheless a shame. If there really was pressure, and Krugman says there was, those who applied it should be treated as traitors to their profession and to free speech who should be drummed out of respectable journalism -- of which, sad to say, there already is too little left, and of which there would have been even less had their pressure succeeded.

 This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at

VelvelOnNationalAffairs is now available as a podcast. To subscribe please visit, and click on the link on the top left corner of the page. The podcasts can also be found on iTunes or at

In addition, one hour long television book shows, shown on Comcast, on which Dean Velvel, interviews an author, one hour long television panel shows, also shown on Comcast, on which other MSL personnel interview experts about important subjects, conferences on historical and other important subjects held at MSL, presentations by authors who discuss their books at MSL, a radio program (What The Media Won’t Tell You) which is heard on the World Radio Network (which is on Sirrus and other outlets in the U.S.), and an MSL journal of important issues called The Long Term View, can all be accessed on the internet, including by video and audio. For TV shows go to:; for book talks go to:; for conferences go to:; for The Long Term View go to:¬_LTV.htm; and for the radio program go to: