Re: ...The Ogletree Transgression
Sent: Friday, September 24, 2004 9:19 AM
Subject: The Ogletree Transgression
I find your blogged comments on the Ogletree affair most perceptive. Academic ghost-writing has indeed become a plague, and does indeed point to a wider cultural corruption associated with the cult of celebrity. But one thing you don't comment on, which I find equally revealing about contemporary civilisation, is that the alleged wrong was apparently drawn to the attention of Ogletree and Balkin by anonymous letters. I also see that someone going by the name of OgletreeSceptics, who seems to regard himself/herself as a kind of masked avenger, is now circulating anonymous emails about the case. Such behaviour, although apparently widespread, is exceptionally cowardly. If one won't or can't cast one's aspersions in the open, one shouldn't cast them at all. As between someone whose writings are partly ghost-written and someone whose accusations are entirely unsigned, I know which I would rather have as a friend.
September 14, 2004
Dear Professor Tribe:
Thank you for your email. I would like to post it, along with this response, but will not do so if you object. Please let me know if you do object.
With regard to the last sentence of your letter, let me say this. I often think of major philosophical and societal problems in the context of concrete cases. Indeed, philosophical and societal ideas are useful only in the context of such cases. In the abstract, divorced from life, they are of little or no consequence. The Ogletree matter is a concrete case illustrating widespread problems, so it seems proper to discuss the overall problems and the concrete case together. This is only the more true because the problems involved have received so little attention and are the subject of so little general concern.
Beyond this, if kindness and decency require that one not discuss a matter on the basis of what has become known with some degree of certainty in the public sphere, then how is criticism to be leveled by any person whose "knowledge is necessarily limited" to what has appeared in that sphere? And wouldn’t we have to depend for criticisms on those who are closest to the situation, who have the most reason not to discuss it lest they or their institution be harmed, and who are least likely to publicly discuss or criticize? To be honest, while I certainly do appreciate and applaud your human concern for Professor Ogletree, it is nonetheless difficult to believe that you, one of the great champions of civil liberties in our generation, would make the point you made were this a case involving first amendment rights.
As said, please let me know if you object to the posting of your email and this response.
All best wishes.
Lawrence R. Velvel
Dear Dean Velvel:
I very much appreciate your letting me see both your long and thought-provoking statement and Michael Parenti's shorter but no less pointed critique. The fact that Mr. Parenti takes a humorous jab at me as his parting shot doesn't in itself lead me to put down the other matters on which I'm working. Some of those matters are quite pressing and involve writing deadlines that I have to give priority over my thus far entirely tangential involvement in this sad episode. I like Charles Ogletree as a person and continue to have enormous respect for much of the important work he has done as a lawyer and as an academic. What I told the Boston Globe about the way in which he has overextended himself was not intended to be a complete explanation or justification of anything but a purely factual description. I don't see it as my place either to offer excuses for my colleagues' and friends' missteps or to pile on when the world is already heaping calumny upon them. That I personally believe Professor Ogletree to be a person of great talent and basic integrity, when it's not my role to judge him, seems to me a fact that shouldn't draw me involuntarily into a protracted exchange of views simply because I was willing to answer a couple of questions from a newspaper reporter and tried to do so as truthfully as I could.
As to the larger problem you describe -- the problem of writers, political office-seekers, judges and other high government officials passing off the work of others as their own -- I think you're focusing on a phenomenon of some significance. I do wish, though, that its exploration could be separated, in the interest of basic human kindness and simple decency as well as that of accuracy, from public excoriation of individuals and episodes about which your knowledge is necessarily limited.
Laurence H. Tribe Carl
M. Loeb University Professor Harvard University Hauser Hall 420 1575
Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138