Warren, Obama, and Harvard's Culture of Corruption

As Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren and her Harvard partners in crime are learning, academic fraud is not as easy to get away with as it used to be in the good old days before the emergence of a vigilant alternative media.

Writing for Breitbart, Michael Patrick Leahy revealed on Friday a spring 1993 article that listed Warren as one of approximately 250 "women of color" in legal academia.  The article was published in what was then called the Harvard Women's Law Journal and would have been released roughly when Warren was being considered for tenure.

At the time, Harvard Law was desperately seeking just such women.  Just three years earlier, the Law School found itself embroiled in a nasty racial brouhaha.  Black firebrand law professor Derrick Bell was demanding that Harvard appoint a woman of color to the law faculty.  This protest would culminate in vigils and protests by the racially sensitive student body, in the course of which Bell supporter Barack Obama would compare the increasingly absurd Bell to Rosa Parks.

Feeling the pressure, Harvard Law Review editors wanted to elect their first African-American president.  "Obama cast himself as an eager listener," the New York Times reported in the article that would catch the eye of literary agent Jane Dystel, "sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once." 

In effect, the pressure Bell had brought to bear launched Obama's political career, and it may have given Warren the idea to reinvent herself as Pocahontas.  One could almost forgive Warren for cheating a little.  At the time, the Law School faculty was flush with cheats, including Obama's two most prominent mentors. 

One of them, liberal icon Laurence Tribe, hired Obama as his research assistant in 1989 and took a powerful liking to the young man.  After the 2008 election, Tribe would gush, "His stunning combination of analytical brilliance and personal charisma, openness and maturity, vision and pragmatism, was unmistakable from my very first encounter." 

Obama found a second prominent mentor in professor Charles Ogletree.  In the run-up to the 2008 election, Ogletree would enthuse, "I'm so excited about this candidacy that I just can't tell you. I'm just overfull with joy."  If anything, both Ogletree and Tribe should have been overfull with joy in the simple fact that they had hung onto their Harvard jobs.

In August 2004, Ogletree had been forced to apologize for somehow letting words from Yale scholar Jack Balkin's book, What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said, find their way into his own book, All Deliberate Speed.  At Harvard, given Ogletree's standing, none dared call this plagiarism.

At the University of Massachusetts Law School, however, Dean Lawrence Velvel called it exactly what it was, and publicly.  Tribe, something of an academic showboat, moved swiftly to defend Ogletree.  Although conceding that plagiarism by the prominent had become "a phenomenon of some significance," Tribe questioned the "decency" of those like Velvel who go public on issues "about which your knowledge is necessarily limited."

In a delightful turn of the paddlewheel, Tribe's showboating caught up with him just a few weeks later.  Amazed by the sheer moxie of Tribe's defense, an anonymous tipster reported that passages from Henry J. Abraham's 1974 book, Justices and Presidents, had somehow found their way into Tribe's 1985 book, God Save This Honorable Court.

Forced to review the twin cases, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan -- yes, that Elena Kagan -- and Harvard president Larry Summers faced an obvious challenge: Ogletree was a black star on a faculty often criticized for being overly white, and Tribe was the superstar of the judicial left.  Had the plagiarists-in-residence not been such sacred cows, Harvard would have likely ground them into hamburger. 

Instead, Summers and Kagan let months pass before even announcing that they had appointed a committee of inquiry.

On this chummy committee were former Harvard president Derek Bok and two other Harvard insiders.  In April 2005 -- quelle surprise! -- the committee cleared Ogletree and Tribe.  The transgressions, Summers and Kagan agreed, had surely been the "product of inadvertence."  This being so, they thought it time to "consider the matter closed" and move on.

That same April, Velvel re-entered the fray, posting a lengthy analysis on his blog that explored the extent of the fraud and the depth of Kagan's complicity.  Wrote Velvel of the administrative response, "[I]t is a travesty. Its language is misleading, its logic miserable, and its spirit corrupt."  What troubled Velvel most was this: Ogletree and Tribe could claim "inadvertence" because both likely had their research assistants write chunks of their books for them.  Added Velvel, "Ghostwriting, horribly enough, has become all too prevalent in academia as a general matter."

The fact that Ogletree used ghostwriters, said Velvel, was "widely accepted."  The case against Tribe was nearly as strong.  The many instances of "copycatting" included a 19-word stretch in Tribe's book identical to a 19-word stretch in Abraham's earlier book.  This struck Velvel as "more like what one would expect of a student than of a Tribe."  He pointed out too that a former Tribe assistant, Ron Klain, had already claimed to have written large sections of Tribe's God Save This Honorable Court.

Still, Tribe and Ogletree skated.  They may have been taking their cues on stonewalling from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard Ph.D., Goodwin was serving on the university's governing board in 2002 when rightly accused of a word theft so felonious she should have had her Ph.D. recalled, not to mention her Pulitzer.

When the student editors of the Harvard Crimson went after Goodwin, the inevitable Tribe went after the editors.  He scolded them for their "lack of any real sense of proportion or, for that matter, much sense of decency."  If his prose was awkward, Tribe's instincts were sound.  No liberal has used the "decency" gambit so nimbly since Joseph Welsh in the Army-McCarthy hearings.

With support from Tribe and other literati, Goodwin wormed her way out of what should have been a career-killer.  Through a combination of dissembling, denial, discreet payoffs to the plagiarized author, and strategic Bush-bashing, she was able to work her way back to network TV and on to the bestseller lists.  So deft was the colonic mix that by 2008 Obama could cite "a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin" without the slightest sense of taint.

"That Harvard is setting a very bad example, with all too much of the bad stuff centered in its law school, is all too evident," writes Velvel.  One unfortunate consequence of this phenomenon was that students like Obama and young faculty like Warren were watching and learning from the masters.  Here is how Velvel imagines their thought processes:

On balance, it is well worth it, for on the one side lies fame and fortune, and on the other lies only a slap on the wrist. And, especially if I can hide my misdeeds for years (as seems usually to occur), and in the meanwhile have become a big deal, I am virtually assured of suffering nothing other than a minor slap on the wrist if and when I am finally caught.

One has to wonder whether Obama, when pressed to complete his book, took his cue from his esteemed Harvard mentors.  Did one or the other whisper in his ear, "Have someone else write it.  We do this all the time."?  If so, his appointment of Kagan to the Supreme Court made sense.  Her history of whitewashing the sins of the powerful would not have troubled Obama as it did Velvel, who wanted her fired for helping turn Harvard into a joke:

Since it is now known that Harvard professors have plagiarized, copycatted, and pretty certainly have had stuff ghostwritten for them, the bona fides and reputations of nearly everyone at Harvard is called into question, especially people in the law school.

What neither Warren nor Obama could have anticipated in the early 1990s is that a vigilant alternative media would emerge to monitor their ascent.  Although Harvard may tolerate politically simpatico frauds, the real world has proven less forgiving.

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