Editorial: Harvard owes students explanation over plagiarism

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In the span of a month, it has been discovered that two Harvard law professors have copied the work of others without credit. This has caused something of a crisis within the Harvard community, for not only were the two incidents discovered one after the other they also do not signify the first time Harvard has been rocked by accusations of plagiarism.

Here at Harvard Law School, Professor Alan Dershowitz has also in come under fire in the past over accusations of plagiarism. In the larger Harvard community, the most infamous plagiarism charge is the one leveled against Doris Kearns Goodwin, the noted historian who sits on Harvard’s powerful Board of Overseers. Despite repeated cries from the Crimson and students, Harvard has failed to recognize the giant insult to the student body that is signified by its tepid response. Both the University and the Law School make a big deal about plagiarism (as, indeed, they should). Almost every student at HLS has read the ominous warnings put in the Adviser about the drastic measures that will be taken if a student is caught cheating or plagiarizing. Yet, when Professors are caught doing the same thing, Harvard goes into lockdown mode, taking care of its own and never discussing the penalties for such actions. Is this the example to be set for students? How can Harvard continue to put itself forth as a prominent center of learning when it displays a lack of concern for the integrity of the work produced by its faculty?

All of this is not to suggest that Ogletree or Tribe should be fired. From the evidence available, it seems that these recent incidents were honest mistakes, appropriately brought to light and quickly apologized for. Again, however, even students caught inadvertently plagiarizing receive punishment. The school should be undergoing a self-examination right now yet it is not. From the perspective of the student body it seems that plagiarism is the elephant in the room that the school simply refuses to acknowledge. In an article this issue, the Record covers the exchanges that have occurred on the website of Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts Law School. It is a shame that these conversations are occurring on the website of another school. The student body here deserves to understand what is being done about this plague seeping through Harvard.

Though the Record is certainly one forum for campus dialogue, it is not the only one. Certainly, an e-mail or a series of e-mails could be sent out explaining the situation, similar in fashion to the e-mail recently sent out by Dean Kagan explaining the decision to allow military recruiters. Likewise, a town hall meeting could be held with faculty and administrators explaining what is going on behind closed doors and providing students a forum to pose direct questions.

This is a problem that will not simply go away. The question is, will Harvard continue to pretend no one is noticing, or will it confront the problem head on and make clear the seriousness with which it treats plagiarism?

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