The Right Coast

September 28, 2004
Steal This Book
By Maimon Schwarzschild

David Frum has thoughts on Lawrence Tribe, Harvard Law School, and plagiarism in Tribe's book against Robert Bork:
    Tribe has now confessed and apologized. But not all of his colleagues share Tribe's remorse. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, Tribe’s friend Prof. Dershowitz contended that Tribe was the victim of – wait for it – a vast right-wing conspiracy. And Dershowitz produced this ingenious multicultural defense of Tribe’s actions:

    “[Dershowitz] said that judges frequently rely on lawyers’ briefs and clerks’ memoranda in drafting opinions. This results in a ‘cultural difference’ between sourcing in the legal profession and other academic disciplines, Dershowitz said.”

    As a 1987 graduate of the Harvard Law School, I have to reluctantly concede that there is some truth or anyway basis to Dershowitz’s defense.

    Law schools – and Harvard perhaps more than any other - suffer from a deep identity problem. They regard themselves and hold themselves out to the public as scholarly institutions, just like the other graduate departments of the university. Yet most of the faculty of the Harvard law school when I was there were not scholars at all. They were extremely clever lawyers who had been hired young for their intellectual potential – and who were then valued by the school for their charisma, their teaching ability, and their activist outside legal work. The only scholarship that was usually required of them – scholarship meaning original academic research and writing – was a single substantial article for a law review. A bright young man or woman could get tenure at Harvard Law School with a publishing record that would not even qualify him for a job interview at the Harvard History Department.

    There were exceptions to this rule, of course, and ironically enough Tribe was and is one of them. But Dershowitz is correct that most Harvard lawyers simply play by different rules than other academics do.
Frum's response (just scroll down) to last Sunday's New York Times Magazine piece on blogs -- Frum says conservative bloggers shouldn't be miffed, because the piece was really pretty devastating to leftish bloggers -- seems right to me too.