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Read 'Em And Weep For Harvard

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Summary For Op Ed News  

            An appended article by a recent Harvard graduate and former Wall Street Journal reporter discloses surprisingly extensive intellectual fraud at 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 WritersWelcome to the world of celebrity academics–and the behind-the-scenes scribes who help make their fame and fortune possible.
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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.

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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.

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.

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