Professors Admit to Misusing Sources

Two distinguished Harvard Law School (HLS) professors were accused this year of misusing sources in books they have published.

Loeb University Professor Laurence H. Tribe ’62 and Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. have both apologized for not properly attributing the works of other scholars.

The University has announced that Tribe will not be punished for his mistake, but both Ogletree and an HLS spokesman have declined to comment on the nature of Ogletree’s punishment.

Though they have expressed regret for their errors, the professors’ actions have faced criticism from other figures in higher education.

On Sept. 25 of last year, an article in The Weekly Standard accused Tribe of not properly attributing the work of University of Virginia professor emeritus Henry J. Abraham in Tribe’s 1985 book, “God Save This Honorable Court.” Tribe admitted the error and apologized in a statement the following day.


“My well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience through the omission of any footnotes or endnotes—in contrast to the practice I have always followed in my scholarly writing—came at an unacceptable cost: my failure to attribute some of the material The Weekly Standard identified,” Tribe wrote in a statement.

University president Lawrence H. Summers and HLS dean Elena Kagan issued a joint statement on April 13, in which they released the results of an investigation of a three-member task force they appointed to look into the Standard’s accusations. They found that Tribe’s book did in fact contain passages from Abraham’s 1974 book, “Justices and Presidents,” without attribution.

“We have taken note that the relevant conduct took place two decades ago, that Professor Tribe’s book...mentioned the Abraham book in a concluding bibliographic note, and that the unattributed material related more to matters of phrasing than to fundamental ideas,” Summers and Kagan wrote. “Nevertheless, we regard the error in question as a significant lapse in proper academic practice—as does Professor Tribe himself,” the letter continued.

On the same day, Tribe issued a second statement repeating his apology but stressing that the error was inadvertent.

“For over six months, I have said nothing further about this 20-year-old error, even as I have seen some mischaracterize it as intentional theft of another’s ideas and have watched as my character and integrity have been impugned,” he said in an April statement.

In an e-mail sent to the Crimson last week, Tribe reiterated his sentiment that an inadvertent mistake has led to an unduly harsh character judgment, amounting to a “false and defamatory contrary impression that some who do or ought to know better have, for their own reasons, deliberately created.”

The Crimson also reported last September that Ogletree took full responsibility for inadvertently including six paragraphs in his 2004 book, “All Deliberate Speed,” that are nearly identical to a passage from a collection of essays by Yale professor Jack M. Balkin.

In a statement last September, Ogletree wrote that two of his assistants incorporated the passage from Balkin’s book into a draft of his own book and had attributed it, but then inadvertently deleted the attribution. Ogletree reviewed all of the material personally, but did not recognize the error.

In a statement, he called the errors “avoidable and preventable.”

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