Topic: Professions & Institutions

Dershowitz Defends Plagiarism
(9/29/2004)

Ho Hum! Another day, another Harvard law professor get caught plagiarizing.

Actually, the emerging proof that Harvard Law star prof Lawrence Tribe created a book in the 1980s by paraphrasing literally dozens of excerpts from a lesser-known colleague's lesser known book is so redolent of previous Harvard plagiarism scandals involving Doris Kearns, Charles Ogletree [See "The Plagiarizing Professor"] and Alan Dershowitz that the Ethics Scoreboard would normally pass on the story as redundant. Tribe, having been authoritatively exposed by the current issue of The Weekly Standard ("Laurence Tribe and the problem of borrowed scholarship"], has apologized, taken full responsibility, and admitted that he did not properly credit his extensive use of Henry J. Abraham's 1974 book on Supreme Court appointments, Justices and Presidents, in his own 1985 book, God Save This Honorable Court. The facts are substantially similar to the recent Ogletree incident (only much more blatant in Tribe's case), and the Scoreboard entry on that matter still applies.

But then Professor Alan Dershowitz began flapping his gums, and amassing impressive credentials on his road to the Absurd Rationalizations Hall of Fame (appropriately located in Washington, D.C.) as he "defended" his fellow Harvard Law faculty member. Listen, oh ye aspiring rationalizers, to a master at work:

  • "Abraham sat on this story for 20 years. If he had a gripe, he should have written to Larry 20 years ago."

    Let's get this straight, Professor: Abraham, out of courtesy, laziness, kindness, or forgetfulness doesn't protest Tribe's uncredited extractions from his writings and research, and this absolves Tribe? What kind of cockamamie reasoning is that? The ethical issue is that Tribe plagiarized in 1985, and the fact that this is revealed in 1986, 1996 or 2060 doesn't change his culpability or the seriousness of the offense.

  • "Clearly someone was looking to pin something on the most prominent liberal constitutional scholar in the country."

    Ahh yes, The Weekly Standard is a conservative magazine, so its expose was "politically motivated!" Unfortunately, in this country, the supposed watchdogs in academia and the media are loathe to hold liberal icons like Tribe to appropriate standards of behavior, so it isn't surprising that the conservative press ends up doing the job. To be blunt: so what? The proof of plagiarism found by The Standard is extensive and undeniable. The fact that the Standard may actually enjoy catching Tribe in a major scholarly transgression doesn't invalidate the legitimacy of the offense. Dershowitz obviously so enjoyed making this fatuous argument when he hit the talk show circuit defending President Clinton during Monica Mania that he can't stop.

  • Dershowitz actually claimed that because it is standard practice for lawyers to submit briefs and memoranda under their own names when they have really been prepared by assistants and associates, a lawyer-professor like Tribe is under the influence of a "cultural difference" and may not see plagiarism the same way as his fellow scholars who don't argue cases before the Supreme Court.

Wow! This guy really got Klaus Von Bulow acquitted with arguments like that? Come on, Professor, Lawrence Tribe is a published author many times, a member of the Harvard Law faculty, and a nationally known Constitutional scholar. He knows the standards applied to scholarly writings. He knows the rules. He holds students to them. And he knows that when a lawyer signs a brief, he is not claiming authorship. Tribe, to his credit, clearly understands exactly what he did and why it is wrong. Dershowitz, however, is another story. His arguments in defense of Tribe raise serious questions about his ethical bearings, not that there weren't doubts before.

Harvard Law School has a full-blown plagiarism problem among its faculty, and it is more than likely that it has extensive company among other prestigious universities. Institutions of higher education must unite and begin serious and extensive inquiries into the extent and the causes of a trend that threatens the integrity of scholarship and undermines the ethics of America's students.

But let's keep Alan Dershowitz off the Task Force.

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