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Ogletree admits lifted passages

Harvard professor cites editing mistake

A recent book by Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. includes six paragraphs lifted almost directly from another author's work, in what Ogletree said was a mistake made as the draft of his book passed through the hands of two assistants.

After an investigation by Harvard, Ogletree published a letter of apology on the law school's website last week.

"I made a serious mistake during the editorial process of completing this book, and delegated too much responsibility to others during the final editing process," Ogletree wrote in the statement, which was approved by the school's administration. "I was negligent in not overseeing more carefully the final product that carries my name."

The book, "All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education," was published earlier this year. A long passage at the beginning of one chapter was taken, without attribution, from a book of essays edited by Yale Law School professor Jack M. Balkin. Balkin's book, "What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said," was published in 2001.

Reached by phone, Ogletree said he will be subject to disciplinary action from Harvard, but refused to say what the discipline would be. The celebrity professor, who has been named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America, added that "there's going to be an ongoing inquiry into how you can accomplish your work and be careful and avoid errors."

Michael Armini, the law school's spokesman, said it is not the policy of the school to comment on disciplinary action. Law school dean Elana Kagan could not be reached yesterday; nor could Balkin.

Ogletree said yesterday that Balkin and Kagan both received anonymous letters pointing out the use of Balkin's writing, and that Balkin called Ogletree to alert him. "He was distressed and said 'you should be aware of this.' I was shocked and immediately started to take a look at it," he said.

Kagan asked former Harvard president Derek Bok and former law school dean Robert C. Clark to investigate. Based on their report, Kagan deemed the case "a serious scholarly transgression," according to Armini.

Reached yesterday, however, Bok characterized the borrowing as an accident. "There was no deliberate wrongdoing at all," he said.

"It was a case of publishers insisting on a very tight deadline because they felt they had to get a book out just in time for the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education," Bok said. "He marshaled his assistants and parceled out the work and in the process some quotation marks got lost."

One of Ogletree's assistants inserted the quote from Balkin's book in a draft of "All Deliberate Speed," with the idea that it would be reviewed and summarized by another research assistant, Ogletree said in his statement. The material was attributed to Balkin, but the closing quotation mark was dropped.

A second assistant inadvertently deleted the attribution "under the pressure of meeting a deadline," according to the statement, and sent a revised draft to the publisher. Ogletree said he reviewed the draft but did not realize the passages were not his own.

"It was an error made by one person, but I take full responsibility," Ogletree said yesterday. "There is no one to blame but me."

The paragraphs in question occur at the beginning of Chapter 16 of "All Deliberate Speed." They describe desegregation efforts over several decades and end: "At the start of the twenty-first century, the principle of Brown seems as hallowed as ever, but its practical effect seems increasingly irrelevant to contemporary public schooling."

Balkin's sentence was identical, except that it referred to the end of the 20th century and thus began "By the end of the century."

Publisher W.W. Norton has pasted in an errata sheet in all unsold copies of Ogletree's book, said Louise Brockett, director of publicity. Future printings -- including the paperback, due out this spring -- will be revised to insert quotation marks and attribution to Balkin.

In his statement, Ogletree said he had also apologized to Balkin.

"Professor Balkin was exceedingly gracious in accepting my apologies for this error, and for that I'm grateful," Ogletree wrote.

The incident comes amid heightened sensitivity in academia after several celebrated cases of misuse of research material. In 2003, historian Brian VanDeMark, on the faculty of the US Naval Academy, agreed to make changes in his book "Pandora's Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb," after four historians alleged that he had plagiarized their writing.

In 2002, former Harvard professor Doris Kearns Goodwin admitted that her book about the Kennedy family, "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga," had used substantial portions of another writer's book without proper attribution, and that a dispute had been settled with a payment to the other writer. Goodwin also maintained that the errors were accidental, caused by confusion and sloppiness.

Also in 2002, historian Stephen E. Ambrose acknowledged use of material from another writer in his book, "The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany, 1944-45." Ambrose said it was an accident, caused by confusion between him and his son, who had collaborated in the writing.

Emory University historian Michael A. Bellesiles was forced to resign in 2002 when academic investigators strongly suggested that he had falsified his research in an award-winning book about gun ownership in early America.

Ogletree is the author of numerous books, makes frequent media appearances, and has taken on high-profile causes such as representing Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings. The National Law Journal has named him one of their "100 Most Influential Lawyers in America."

Yesterday, several colleagues expressed sympathy. "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 professor Laurence H. Tribe.

Marcella Bombardieri can be reached at

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