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Plagiarism: Yours, Mine, and Ayres'
October 8, 2007 - 3:55pm



"Several passages in Yale Law School professor Ian Ayres ... new book are unattributed verbatim reproductions or nearly identical paraphrases of passages from various newspaper and magazine articles published in the last twenty years, an investigation by the [ Yale Daily] News has shown."

In this measured language, very similar to the language the last student investigators of high-level plagiarism used in the Southern Illinois University newspaper, the editorial staff at Yale announces their findings. The SIU students found that the president of their university plagiarized significant stretches of his doctoral dissertation, while Yale's students found that a law professor there plagiarized parts of a mass market book he just published. But it looks to UD as though the form of plagiarism was exactly the same in both cases: Both men simply stuck passages from other writers into their text when it suited them, and gave either minimal or no attribution. In some of the passages in question, neither used quotation marks, even when they quoted at length, verbatim.

Although various knowledgeable observers at both institutions have called this activity what it is -- plagiarism -- it's pretty clear to UD that both men will go unpunished, with all the attendant damage this will do to the integrity of universities and the idealism of students. After all, when it comes to students, the behavior's severely sanctioned.

UD bases her prediction on precedent. Two high-ranking Harvard law professors have plagiarized in the last few years and received no punishment. One of them, Lawrence Tribe, employed exactly the same excuse Ayres has: It's okay to plagiarize when you're writing for the unwashed masses. My "well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience through the omission of any footnotes or endnotes - in contrast to the practice I have always followed in my scholarly writing," said Tribe, "came at an unacceptable cost: my failure to attribute some of the material..." The other plagiarist, Charles Ogletree, took the more conventional route among high-profile scholars and blamed it on his research assistants. Both men emerged from their scandals without a mark on them.

Note the high-handed nature of these excuses: I am too important and busy a person really to write -- or at least write with any care -- these mass-appeal books out of which I expect to make a lot of money. I have a group of assistants who research and write them for me, and then I put my bankable name on them... What do you expect to happen? ... I mean, of course a certain slippage will occur when other people are doing the writing and I don't even bother to read what they've written.... So what?

So what? agrees Harvard, and now, almost certainly Yale. As the Harvard newspaper noted of its law school's scandals, the university has one set of rules for its famous professors, and another for its students.

These cases -- and there will be more of them -- are instructively clear instances of oligarchic corruption.


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