Pesky grad students get another prof in trouble

I was at a party a few years ago with some Chicago advertising people and was introduced to a young woman who, I was told, had developed the "Got Milk" campaign. I was impressed for about a year until I encountered more authors of this campaign. Taking credit for "Got Milk" turns out to be an in-joke in the industry.

In the academy right now, we have the opposite phenomenon: people denying they wrote their own books.

The new standard plagiarism defense for professors authoring nonfiction is, "my grad students did it." The latest "victim" is the insufferable commentator/professor Lawrence Tribe and the newest manifestation of the problem is a full-time Harvard University plagiarism blog.

I mentioned a friend once asking a London grad school if professors would be appropriating his research; the answer came, "This is not the States, sir. We do our own research here." You can imagine how strongly, therefore, I disagree with law professor Glenn Reynolds when he says,

Getting together a bunch of research assistants and outsourcing a book to them, with the product of their work appearing under one's own name, isn't exactly immoral -- but it isn't scholarship, either.

For any person self-defined as a scholar, these are the most immoral acts I can imagine. This is a corruption so extreme as to completely negate the perpetrator's definition of life, work, and self.

Look at the sick-think being penned by this pathetic victim of the system, a Harvard student:

... he [Professor Ogletree] just got unlucky enough to have research assistants who accidentally messed up and screwed him over. This is bad for academia; it says bad things about the way people write books today.... I think [Dean] Velvel is right that Ogletree's assistants probably did a substantial deal more than assistants might do in a world with the highest standards of honesty and integrity. But I think Velvel's wrong to say that it means ... Ogletree wasn't competent and diligent without saying that it probably means everyone else isn't competent and diligent either, and Ogletree just got unlucky.

What was that, plain talking by a law student? Or the grotesque rationalizations of someone whose ethics have been damaged by the "norms" of Harvard research?

Plagiarism is a firing offense.

Plagiarists need public shaming.

Involuntary ghost writing is intellectual serfdom.

We knew we had a problem when McPherson's AHA colleagues publicly defended Doris Goodwin's "mistakes" and urged acceptance of her statement of non-apology. Now we have yet another PBS talking head - Tribe - scrutinized for plagiarism.

Would it not profit an editor or publisher to ask the author of a work to certify authorship of the work? If the plagiarism lawsuits would aim for the deeper pockets of the publisher, if the penalties and settlements imposed on publishers were stiff enough, we'd get a level of policing that purges nonfiction of both plagiarism and the secret labor of exploited grad students.