School Won't Punish Tribe

Summers, Kagan will not discipline professor whose book lifted text verbatim

Harvard will not formally discipline constitutional expert Laurence H. Tribe ’62 in response to revelations that his 1985 book, “God Save This Honorable Court,” contained passages copied word-for-word without attribution from another scholar’s work.

University President Lawrence H. Summers and Law School Dean Elena Kagan, in a joint statement issued early yesterday afternoon, 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 comes more than six months after the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, reported that Tribe’s book included several sentences that closely mirrored sections of University of Virginia political scientist Henry J. Abraham’s 1974 “Justices and Presidents,” which is widely recognized to be the authoritative work on Supreme Court appointments.

The Weekly Standard exposé came just weeks after Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree Jr. admitted that his book on racial segregation, “All Deliberate Speed,” released last April, had copied six paragraphs almost verbatim from another scholar’s essays. Ogletree told The Crimson at the time that he would be disciplined by the University—an assertion that Harvard officials would neither confirm or deny. Ogletree declined to elaborate further.

The Standard’s Oct. 4 story prompted Summers and 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.


“Our role was simply as factfinder,” Bok said yesterday. He declined to comment further on the task force’s proceedings.

The other two members of the task force, former Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and Pforzheimer University Professor Sidney Verba ’53, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

After reviewing the task force report, Summers and Kagan concluded that Tribe’s book “contained various brief passages and phrases that echo or overlap with material in the Abraham book.”

At one point, Tribe’s book lifted a 19-word passage verbatim from Abraham’s text.

According to Summers and Kagan, “the unattributed material related more to matters of phrasing than to fundamental ideas.”

But they added that “the failure of an author to attribute sources properly, however inadvertent the error, is a matter of serious concern in an academic community.”

Tribe’s book, geared toward non-academic readers, contains no footnotes, although it does mention Abraham’s work in a single sentence in an appendix on background literature.

Tribe apologized—both publicly and in a letter to Abraham—after the Weekly Standard first published its findings in September.

“No statement can erase the fact of my having been less careful than I should have been in my 1985 book, and today I want to reiterate my apology for that error and my assumption of responsibility for it,” Tribe wrote in a letter e-mailed to reporters yesterday.

Tribe added that he was “gratified that the University’s inquiry found no basis for accusations of dishonesty or of intellectual theft.”