BY HUGO TORRES
Professor Charles Ogletree has come under a flurry of criticism over an incident of plagiarism contained in his book, “All Deliberate Speed”. The plagiarized text at issue is from Professor Jack Balkin’s book, “What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said” (NYU Press, 2001) and covers the span of six paragraphs. Although Ogletree has been cleared of intentional plagiarism, critics have called into question the very process under which the book was written.
In a public apology, Ogletree expressed remorse about the copied text from Professor Balkin’s book. “I write to express my profound apologies for serious errors I made during the final days of the research and production process for my recent book,” wrote Ogletree, who admitted to not catching the error until being notified by an anonymous letter. “The errors were avoidable and preventable, and I take full and complete responsibility for them…”
Attributing the oversight to miscommunication by his overworked research assistants, Ogletree directly contacted Balkin to personally apologize for the incident. According to Ogletree, Balkin was understanding over the incident and Ogletree promised to remedy the error. “This negligence on my part will be corrected, and Professor Balkin’s work properly noted, in all future printings of All Deliberate Speed,” said Ogletree.
An internal law school investigation led by two former Harvard officials found the plagiarism incident to be an honest mistake. HLS Dean Elena Kagan appointed former Harvard University President Derek Box and former HLS Dean Robert Clark to investigate the matter. The investigation involved reviewing documents and interviewing research assistants in an attempt to single out how the error occurred. The investigation yielded a finding in agreement with Professor Ogletree’s version of events.
Despite the investigation, the issue has provoked controversy that has resonated beyond the walls of the law school.
Dean Lawrence Velvel, of the Massachusetts School of Law, questioned on his blog Ogletree’s method of producing the book. Pointing out Ogletree’s acknowledgment that two research assistants helped him on the book, Velvel questioned whether their work went beyond help in research. “[Ogletree] says one was inserting material in the book. The other, he says, was reviewing, researching and summarizing the material for inclusion in the book,” writes Velvel. “What these two assistants were doing sounds awfully much as if they were writing the book, or at least some parts of it…Yet only Ogletree’s name appears as the author.”
The Weekly Standard echoed similar concerns, labeling the incident one of “double plagiarism” and calling for Ogletree’s tenure to be revoked. Similarly, members of the Volokh Conspiracy, a legal and academic blog, expressed concerns over Ogletree’s heavy reliance on research assistants.
Not all have rushed to criticize Ogletree. Fellow HLS Professor Laurence Tribe, in comments to the Boston Globe, expressed sympathy for his colleague. “It clearly represents the fact that because he so often says yes to the many people all over the country who ask for his help on all kinds of things, he has extended himself even farther than someone with all that energy can safely do,” said Tribe.
Ogletree has stated that disciplinary action will be taken, but what such action will be or has been remains unknown. For the moment, Ogletree can only express his remorse that the incident occurred. “I was negligent in not overseeing more carefully the final product that carries my name. I accept full responsibility for this error and apologize to Professor Balkin, NYU Press, Norton, my colleagues, students and others for this serious mistake,” wrote Ogletree.