Controversial Stanford Prof Heads East

'Pissed-Off' Kaplan Sues for Libel

Visiting scholars come to Harvard to spend a year all the time, but undergraduates may be paying more than the usual attention when Stanford law professor John Kaplan '51 shows up in Cambridge in September.

Kaplan, who will be spending the year at the Law School, garnered national attention late last year, when the Newsweek on Campus magazine put his course. "The Criminal Law and the Criminal System," on a list of 11 top "guts" offered around the country.

The magazine, which is distributed free on university campuses, said that the course was "recognized as the easiest five credits a Stanford student can earn."

Kaplan wasn't amused and he has filed a $1 million libel suit against the magazine in federal court, charging it with printing false information with reckless disregard for the truth.

While that suit is pending, Kaplan is planning to offer nearly the same course to Harvard undergraduates--with some changes--as General Education 172.


"It's not a gut course. It's a good course," Kaplan said this week from California. "The course is probably the most popular course on the Stanford campus."

Because Harvard operates on a semester system--unlike Stanford's quarter system--Kaplan said he would have to add some lectures to the course, possibly on problems in law enforcement concerning heroin, one of his specialties.

But he said the thrust would remain the same. "Basically it's a course on the institutions of the criminal justice system--what the police do, for instance, or what the prosecutors do," he explained.

According to students at Stanford, Kaplan is one of the most popular professors at the West Coast university, though they do say that Kaplan's course, if not a gut, is one of the easier courses in the Stanford catalogue.

"If you've taken any other pre-law class, it is pretty easy," said Patricia Leckman, a communications major "At Stanford, everybody kind of laughed at it."

But Leckman added that Kaplan was very well liked on campus. "He's really funny and presents his material well," she said.

Kaplan's course reportedly fills Stanford's largest lecture hall perennially--and is also broadcast on campus radio.

The course's popularity was one of the features that apparently attracted Newsweek on Campus to Kaplan The magazine wrote. "Lectures are broadcast over the campus radio station KZSU, and it's not unusual to find students listening to the lectures on portable radios while sunning themselves on the grassy slopes above the DeGuerre Pool."

Said Kaplan, "What obviously interested them was the fact that it was on the radio," but he noted that the course was broadcast at night, not during the day, as he said was implied by the article.

"I was pissed off," he added "They simply didn't pay any attention to any of the facts."

"One of the great things about being a lawyer is that if you get pissed off, you can do something about it," he added, saying that he wanted to teach the magazine, a subsidiary of Newsweek, a lesson.

Kaplan added that he expects to have "a barrel of laughs" at Harvard. A graduate of both the College and Harvard Law School, he said he knows a lot of people around the University.

One of these friends is Shattuck Professor of Government James Q. Wilson, a noted criminologist.

Wilson called Kaplan "one of the ablest and brightest people I know in the field of criminal justice," and praised Kaplan's work on law enforcement problems.

"I never know what my colleagues are like as teachers or graders," Wilson added. "I know them only as conversationalists, and John Kaplan is one of the best I know."