Harvard Law prof admits to plagiarism

A Harvard Law School professor has admitted that one of his recent books contains a six-paragraph passage lifted almost word-for-word from a book by Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin.

Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree said he delegated too much responsibility to his research assistants for his book “All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education,” which was published earlier this year. Research assistants originally attributed the six lifted paragraphs to Balkin’s 2001 book “What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said,” but inadvertently deleted the quotation marks and credit to Balkin while rushing to meet publication deadline, a statement posted last week on the Harvard Law School Web site said.

“The errors were avoidable and preventable, and I take full and complete responsibility for them,” Ogletree’s Web site statement said. “I made a serious mistake during the editorial process of completing this book, and delegated too much responsibility to others during the final editing process.”

Ogletree — who gained prominence for his representation of Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — said when he viewed the revised draft of his book he did not realize the passages were not his own work.

Balkin’s work will be properly cited in all future versions of “All Deliberate Speed,” said the statement, in which Ogletree said Balkin alerted him of the transgression after both Balkin and Harvard Law School administrators received anonymous letters about the passage. Harvard Law School administrators conducted an investigation and confirmed Ogletree did not intentionally misuse the passage from Balkin’s book.

Ogletree said he said he was grateful to Balkin for understanding the research mistake.

“Professor Balkin was exceedingly gracious for accepting my apologies for this error, and for that I’m grateful,” Ogletree said in the statement.

Balkin did not return phone calls or e-mails from the Yale Daily News this weekend.

Students at the Yale Law School said their peers and the administration have paid little attention to the plagiarism. Balkin, a professor of constitutional law and the First Amendment who is himself a graduate of Harvard Law School, has made no mention of the incident on his weblog “Balkinization,” which he updates daily.

Several Harvard and Yale law students said there has been little debate in their academic communities over the passage. Many students said they have been too busy moving back to campus to pay attention to the controversy.

Rebecca Bolin LAW ’06, a student affiliated with the Yale Law School Information Society Project, which Balkin directs, said in an e-mail that she had not heard that the paragraphs had been lifted.

“In a world of full-text searching, where something like this will not go unnoticed, I find it unlikely that anyone views this as anything but a mistake Professor Ogletree obviously regrets,” she said.

Yale Law School professor Morris Cohen, who has written books with the help of research assistants, said he believes research problems such as Ogletree’s occur on a case-by-case basis. He said professors and research assistants must be very careful to communicate with each other and to take detailed notes.

“Is there a global failure in [academic] society? I don’t think so,” Cohen said. “These are usually not calculated offenses, but the result of sloppy research and failure to credit ideas you absorb.”

Ogletree’s admission to plagiarism does not mark the first time such accusations have surfaced at Harvard. In 2002, Harvard Overseer Doris Kearns Goodwin confessed to lifting entire passages from other authors in a book published in 1987 while she was a government professor at Harvard.

Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree’s book includes a section lifted directly from this law book.
Courtesy Amazon.com
Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree’s book includes a section lifted directly from this law book.

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