Torts Chamber?

Harvard Law School and Its Racial Woes

Nesson stepped down from teaching his first-year torts class for the remainder of the semester as another concession. Rakoff will pinch-hit, with Nesson sitting in the back row. But that's not exactly a major win for BLSA, considering he has recently been the target of heavy criticism by colleagues for drug use. As for Rosenberg, there has been no public talk of punishment coming his way.

Ultimately, the concessions proposed by faculty so far offer little promise for definite change. Students remain "hopeful but skeptical," Schwartz says. But members of the group were certainly surprised by what they called Clark's "naive" response. "He thinks these are a series of isolated incidents," says Cary-Sadler. And there is a fear of being fleeced by faculty members who see students as "expendable." Words like "immediately" and "rapidly" come from BLSA members when asked how quickly the committee should move on its research. Ask faculty members—including those who are not as extreme as Dershowitz—the same question, and be ready for a long, academic response.

Even six African American professors who signed a letter of support for BLSA are not exactly passionate about the harassment policy. Senior faculty member and Harvard Law alum Charles Ogletree says the letter, signed by professors Lani Guinier, David Wilkins, Chris Edley, Randall Kennedy, and Ken Mack, was meant to "encourage our dean and faculty to take seriously [BLSA's] concerns." Cary-Sadler said the professors who wrote the letter were a little more "moderate" than he expected.

Professors Cornel West and Charles Ogletree attend a law school student protest.
photo: BLSA
Professors Cornel West and Charles Ogletree attend a law school student protest.

Yet Ogletree, who praised the deans' rapid response, didn't betray his colleagues or the academic-freedom argument. "Some of the issues really reflect serious scholars [who are] fair-minded, but don't have the pedagogical tools to [discuss the issues]." Ogletree also warns "you can't ignore the importance of academic freedom." Having attended Harvard, Ogletree agrees similar racial incidents have occurred over the years, though he tempers that by saying, "It is small-minded to think that this is a Harvard problem."

If the implementation of the sexual harassment policy in the mid '90s is any indication of things to come, the Harvard campus could be in for a year or more of heated debate and could wind up with a Swiss-cheese policy with concessions that try to please all sides. Still Ogletree, who was involved in that process, said it was "some of the most fruitful and productive" debate he has seen at Harvard.

« Previous Page