Saturday, February 23, 2008

Do law schools promote a culture of copying?

There is discussion of the Clinton / Obama "plagiarism" pico-event at the Huffington Post by JAMES HEFFERNAN .

One commenter wrote:

Barak Obama not only graduated from a top law school, he taught at one for a time. Do you think, if a student tried to excuse not attributing the pivotal section of a paper by saying his friend had written it and recommended he use it also, that Professor Obama would find that acceptable?

IPBiz notes that both Obama and Hillary Clinton graduated from top law schools. IPBiz also remembers what Dershowitz said about the culture of copying in the legal area when he defended the copying done by Laurence Tribe. The whole gist of legal analysis is to take from the past to determine present issues. The tendency to copy is understandable. Further, lawyers tend to copy from the text which most closely supports the position they advocate, rather than from the first text, from the most thorough text, or from the most objective text.

One unfortunate fall-out from this politicizing of plagiarism is that it gives an excuse to those who try to defend real incidents of plagiarism, such as that of Poshard. Copying in speeches is one thing (recall Lincoln's "House Divided" speech) but copying in one's Ph.D. thesis is an entirely different matter.

On the Obama front, there has been some discussion of a thesis written by Obama's wife at Princeton University, when she was an undergraduate named Michelle LaVaughn Robinson. According to politico, the thesis has been "temporarily withdrawn" from Princeton's library until after this year's presidential election in November.

The 1985 text includes: "I have found that at Princeton, no matter how liberal and open-minded some of my white professors and classmates try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor on campus; as if I really don't belong. Regardless of the circumstances underwhich I interact with whites at Princeton, it often seems as if, to them, I will always be black first and a student second."

Politico also writes: Media officers at the prestigious university were similarly unhelpful, claiming it is "not unusual" for a thesis to be restricted and refusing to discuss "the academic work of alumni."

Thus, the 2008 political season spans "too much disclosure" (copying) to "too little disclosure" (restricting access to a thesis).

As to schools, in the above, we have spanned Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
For completeness, Obama attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, California for two years, then transferred to Columbia University from which he obtained his B.A. in 1983. John McCain graduated from the Naval Academy.

Obama did get his JD in 1991 from Harvard Law. [In passing, stem cell research was one of the debated topics during Obama's campaign for Senate.]


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