Punishing Its Own

For Harvard, a year of faculty behaving badly

Hours after news broke widely that constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe ’62 had copied verbatim a 19-word passage in his 1985 book “God Bless This Honorable Court,” Tribe attended a reception at the residence of University President Lawrence H. Summers in honor of his recent appointment to the ranks of Harvard’s 19 elite University professors.

Two days earlier, star economist Andrei N. Shleifer ’82 played host to Summers for a break-fast at his Newton home on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement—just three months after a federal judge found that Shleifer and a colleague had conspired to defraud the federal government, leaving Harvard liable for up to $34.8 million in damages. (Please see sidebar, below.)

Since the reception, Tribe’s failure to attribute his source properly has been declared a “product of inadvertence” by a faculty committee. The University prescribed no formal punishment, according to an April statement released by Tribe, who is the Loeb University Professor and teaches at Harvard Law School (HLS).

Shleifer, meanwhile, still holds an endowed chair in the economics department and has continued researching and teaching classes at the College.

And Climenko Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree Jr.—who issued an apology on Sept. 3 for “serious errors” in his recently published book, “All Deliberate Speed,” including the use of six almost verbatim paragraphs from another scholar’s work—told The Crimson in September that he would be disciplined by Harvard, but did not elaborate further. The University has declined comment on the issue.


Three high-profile cases of faculty misconduct at the world’s most prestigious university, all in the span of a single academic year. The incidents have raised pointed questions on campus and off—of double standards, faculty favoritism, and the ethics of academia.

In the cases of Tribe and Ogletree, some dismiss the charges of plagiarism as politically motivated and petty. But other observers say that Harvard is going soft on its academic all-stars, a move they find less than surprising. For these critics, academia’s attitude toward plagiarism can be all bark, no bite.

“Can you see, in your wildest imagination, HLS dismissing Ogletree or Tribe for misconduct?” historian Peter Charles Hoffer writes in an e-mail. “And even if the single instance of plagiarism were only the tip of the iceberg, can you see HLS launching a full scale search for more evidence?”

Hoffer, an adviser on plagiarism to the American Historical Association, is the author of “Past Imperfect: Facts, Fictions, Frauds,” an examination of major cases of historical misconduct.

He notes that more prominent faculty members may be allowed more leeway by their institutions.

“Had the same flaws been found in someone not as highly regarded or placed, their university employer might well have lowered the boom on them,” Hoffer writes.

But other observers say Harvard’s actions were understandable.

“Without a direct link that they plagiarized, it seems to me these light slaps on the wrist were the best Harvard could do without additional evidence,” says Mark S. Frankel, director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility, and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and an expert on legal and ethical issues associated with research misconduct.

“Certainly I think there is an understandable reason why any university would want to be protective of its top-flight prominent faculty,” Frankel says.

In Tribe’s case, Summers and HLS Dean Elena Kagan acknowledged in April that a “significant lapse in proper academic practice” had occurred.