Punishing Its Own

For Harvard, a year of faculty behaving badly

“Academic integrity is crucial to everything we do at Harvard Law School, and I feel very strongly about upholding those principles,” Kagan told the New York Times last November.

She declined to comment for this article, referring inquiries to a spokesman.

HLS’s policy is not to comment on disciplinary matters, according to spokesman Michael A. Armini.

Calls to Ogletree and Shleifer were not returned.



Two summers ago, the College rescinded its offer of admission to Blair Hornstine, an admit to the Class of 2007 who was reported to have plagiarized several articles written for her local newspaper in New Jersey. Admissions officials declined to comment on Hornstine’s case at the time but acknowledge that plagiarism could qualify as grounds for withdrawing an acceptance.

“We take plagiarism every bit as seriously as the Ad Board,” says Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid William R. Fitzsimmons ’67, referring to the standing committee of faculty members that handles cases of undergraduate academic misconduct. “Normally we’d rescind the offer of admission.”

Under the heading of “Plagiarism and Collaboration,” the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) Student Handbook notes that “students who, for whatever reason, submit work either not their own or without clear attribution to its sources will be subject to disciplinary action and ordinarily required to withdraw from the College.”

But not all cases lead to a requirement to withdraw. In the 2003-04 academic year, the Administrative Board heard 22 cases of undergraduate academic dishonesty, encompassing plagiarism, cheating, and “major misuse of sources.”

Only seven cases resulted in a requirement for the student to withdraw; 10 students were put on probation; and three resulted in no action being taken. Two cases were scratched, meaning no evidence of wrongdoing was found.

Thus, despite the handbook’s severe warning, less than a third of the 2003-04 cases resulted in the “ordinary” punishment. Coupled with the University’s response to Tribe and Ogletree, the statistics paint an amorphous portrait of how plagiarism is treated at Harvard. While students are largely taught the rules in black-and-white, the reality lies somewhere in the gray area.

In this ambiguous environment, the question of intent becomes a crucial issue in determining proper punishment for misconduct.

Indeed, in their reports on the incidents involving Ogletree and Tribe, the faculty committees appointed by HLS hinged their conclusions on the issue of intent, noting in Tribe’s case that his errors were “the product of inadvertence rather than intentionality.”

In an e-mail to The Crimson, Tribe takes issue with the description of his actions as “plagiarism.”

“The University nowhere uses the loaded term ‘plagiarism’ to describe this isolated lapse in appropriate attribution,” Tribe writes, adding that the use of the term “can find no support in anything that the University or I have said or done in connection with this episode.”