Ogletree Faces Discipline for Copying Text

A Harvard Law School (HLS) professor admitted that six paragraphs in his newest book came almost verbatim from another professor’s work, in a mistake he attributes to two assistants.

Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree Jr. apologized for what he calls “serious errors” in his book All Deliberate Speed in a Sept. 3 statement, following an investigation by former Harvard President Derek C. Bok and former HLS Dean Robert C. Clark.

Clark and Bok reported their findings that the passage was lifted from Yale Professor Jack M. Balkin’s 2001 collection of essays, What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said, to HLS Dean Elena Kagan. Based on their report, Kagan called the matter “a serious scholarly transgression,” HLS communications director Michael A. Armini wrote in an e-mail. He added that she declined to comment further.

Ogletree said in a phone interview last week that he will be disciplined, but would not say how. Armini wrote that it is school policy not to comment on disciplinary action.

Bok told the Boston Globe last Thursday that the use of Balkin’s material appeared to be an accident, partially caused by publisher W.W. Norton’s insistence on a “very tight deadline.”

“There was no deliberate wrongdoing at all,” Bok said. “He marshaled his assistants and parceled out the work and in the process some quotation marks got lost.”

Bok did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Ogletree accepts “full responsibility” for the errors, he said in his statement, which was posted on the HLS website.

“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,” he said. “I was negligent in not overseeing more carefully the final product that carries my name.”

Ogletree said in the interview that he first learned of the issue when Balkin, tipped off by an anonymous letter, called him. Kagan also received an anonymous letter reporting the issue, Ogletree said.

But Ogletree told The Crimson that he had not read the passage of Balkin’s book that appears in his own work. An assistant inserted the material into a manuscript and intended for another assistant to summarize the passage, according to Ogletree’s statement. The first assistant inadvertently dropped the end quote, and the second assistant accidentally deleted the attribution to Balkin before sending a draft to the publisher.

When the draft returned, Ogletree did not realize that it was not his material, he said in the statement.

But Ogletree said he was closely involved in most of the drafting of the book due to its personal nature.

“The story substantially relies on my own personal perspectives and observations, and how Brown has influenced my life,” he said.

Russell Capone, an HLS student who assisted Ogletree with the book, said that he was not involved with the passage under scrutiny.

“Nonetheless, knowing Professor Ogletree and his work, any speculation that anyone knew of the repetition of Professor Balkin’s material beforehand would, frankly, be outrageous and even libelous,” Capone wrote in an e-mail.

The copied material begins Chapter 16, entitled “Meeting the Educational Challenges of the Twenty-first Century.” The two-page passage details desegregation efforts in recent decades.

Ogletree said that after reviewing the matter, he contacted Balkin to apologize.

“He has been incredibly gracious throughout the process,” Ogletree said of Balkin.

W.W. Norton publicity director Louise Brockett said that they have inserted an errata sheet explaining the attribution in all books that remain in their warehouse. She added that future printings, including the paperback due out next spring, will properly attribute the material.

She said the error was “impossible for us to detect,” because the copied passage was properly footnoted, and Norton found the footnotes to be accurate. Ogletree informed his Norton editor as soon as he discovered the missing attribution, Brockett said.

“Norton did check every footnote to the book,” she said. “You wouldn’t have any other way of knowing unless you had read Balkin’s book and had an exceptional memory.”

Brockett said she thinks errors of this nature occur “from time to time throughout the industry,” although she couldn’t recall another example involving Norton.

Clark and Balkin could not be reached for comment by phone or e-mail.

Ogletree is a prominent national figure on racial and criminal issues and has written multiple books. He helped represent Anita Hill in her lawsuit against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and has led a lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants and survivors of the 1921 race riot in Tulsa. The National Law Journal has named him one America’s 100 Most Influential Lawyers in 2000 and Savoy Magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential Blacks in America in 2003.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at marks@fas.harvard.edu.