Saturday, April 16, 2005

Harvard Crimson on reprimand of Laurence Tribe

The Harvard Crimson discussed the "reprimand" of April 14 of Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe in an article on April 15. Unmentioned was the status of the earlier request by students to adjust the Harvard policy on copying by students to conform with the (apparent) policy applied to Professor Tribe. If, hypothetically, Tribe were a student when doing the copying, he would have been in a lot of trouble. If, in reality, a student in 2005 did this type of copying, the student would be in a lot of trouble. This two-track approach will apparently persist at Harvard.

The Tribe matter had political overtones. It was the conservative Weekly Standard that exposed the copying. Tribe is an icon of liberals, and the book, “God Save This Honorable Court,” wherein the copying was fixed in tangible medium, was a liberal text. The plagiarism issue here was one of improper crediting of a source.

A different sort of problem occurs when legal academics write something that is simply wrong. In the intellectual property area, Lemley and Moore wrote, in a footnote in the Boston University Law Review, something related to Robert Clarke that both

--> was wrong, in attributing to Mr. Clarke an assumption that Mr. Clarke did not make
--> was hurtful, in the sense it attributed to Mr. Clarke an assumption that was manifestly stupid, thereby portraying Mr. Clarke in a false light and in a bad light.

Although the article of Lemley and Moore has been published for more than one year, nothing (apparently) has been done to correct the error. This is very sad.

Returning to the Tribe matter, one suspects that the incident will now fade into the shadows. Although, as Dean Velvel suggests, conservative columnists might have a field day, I don't think this story has legs. Maybe it ought to.

Derived from article by Daniel J. Hemel in Harvard Crimson, April 15, 2005:

The Weekly Standard’s Oct. 4, 2004 story prompted Harvard President Summers and Law School Dean Kagan to convene a three-member task force to investigate the plagiarism allegations against Tribe. One member, former University President Derek C. Bok, said yesterday that the task force met approximately a half dozen times last fall and issued a report to Summers and Kagan in December, 2004. The other task force members were former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba ’53. University President Lawrence H. Summers and Law School Dean Elena Kagan, in a joint statement issued early in the afternoon of April 14, 2005 [more than three months after the report had been received], acknowledged that Tribe committed “a significant lapse in proper academic practice” in the composition of the 1985 book. But Summers and Kagan said they are “firmly convinced that the error was the product of inadvertence rather than intentionality.”

The statement from Summers and Kagan on April 14 did not divulge whether Tribe would face any disciplinary action in connection with the incident. “In line with usual University practice, we intend no further comment on the matter,” Summers and Kagan said. But Tribe’s assistant said yesterday that “there was no sanction or reprimand beyond the [University] statement.”

Also from the Hemel article:

Hobbes Professor of Cognition and Education Howard Gardner yesterday called for greater transparency from top Harvard officials, writing in an e-mail that the University statement on Tribe “leaves observers as well as those within the institution confused about what is and is not proper behavior, and what consequences follow from behavior deemed inappropriate.” In a brief phone conversation yesterday, Gardner declined to comment further.

The controversy over “God Save This Honorable Court” emerged from a Sept. 14 message that Tribe posted on the weblog of Massachusetts Law School Dean Lawrence R. Velvel, in which Tribe said the misattribution of sources by “writers, political office-seekers [and] judges” constituted “a phenomenon of some significance.”

That blog post prompted one reader to send an anonymous tip to the Standard drawing attention to the similarities between Tribe’s book and Abraham’s.

Velvel yesterday blasted Harvard’s response to the allegations against Tribe.

“I have enormous respect for [Tribe],” Velvel said in an interview yesterday. “I think he has done fine work for American society and I think he acted with great propriety in immediately fessing up to what happened instead of trying to dodge it.”

“Nonetheless, based on what I can gather from just hearing [the University’s statement] quickly once, I think Harvard’s action is shameful,” Velvel said.

“I think that both [Summers] and Kagan should be fired. To think that there is no punishment for an obvious serious admitted intellectual transgression is just terrible.”

He predicted that right-wing pundits “will have an absolute field day with this one.”

“The right wing’s attitude is not a reason to punish Tribe, however. The reason to punish Tribe is that what he did is horribly wrong,” Velvel said.

The number listed for Abraham in the University of Virginia Faculty Directory was not in service yesterday.


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