Punishment Law School Fracas

JUST one month ago the Law School's Administrative Board announced its decisions on the cases of five black law students who had participated in the OBU building seizures last December and (in one case) the SDS sit-in at Dean May's office in November. The Law School had approached these cases with a certain amount of trepidation and reluctance, partly because they were its first encounter with political "crimes" and partly because the "crimes" had occurred over in the Yard, a place that can seem remote-and even inconsequential-from the vantage point of Langdell Hall.

Willing or not the Law School had to face the seemingly insoluble problem of disciplining students for political acts with a mechanism more suited to cases of shoplifting and plagiarism. But the Ad Board's procedures proved to be of more concern to faculty than students as a group of radical students raised questions by their acts and statements that struck at the core of the school's power structure. The crisis atmosphere has dissipated for now and professors have returned to more normal duties, but the events of the last two weeks left too many questions to be any more than the Law School's baptism in internal politics.

Last spring the Law School was debating the issue of grade reform for first year students with a decorum that would be unimaginable for undergraduates. Students drew up lengthy, well-reasoned critiques of the grading system worked on committees, held open meetings, and, at the height of their militancy resorted to a "study-in" in the library. They won only a partial victory but even then it was becoming apparent to faculty that students were not enchanted by the traditional order the faculty felt such a strong allegiance to. And the faculty does feel an allegiance to the Law School in a way that few other faculties could. An astonishing number of its members attended the Law School, worked for the Law Review and after short stints clerking for a judge or working for a firm, returned to the Law School to teach. The system at the Law School is the one they succeeded under once and preside over now and it is one that makes sense to them in a way that it no longer can for a growing number of students. But this reverence most professors harbor for the Law School has not blinded them to what one calls the "we-they atmosphere?" among many faculty and students. Even if they wanted to ignore the new currents, they could not. Law students picket firms like Ropes and Gray (a prestigious Boston firm), ask firms for detailed information about their activities, and lend more time to extracurricular activities than to traditional activities like Ames competition. The Young Republicans and Young Democrats have fared better than their College counterparts, but the growing numbers of blacks and white radicals have created forces that can only emphasize the gap between faculty and students.

One more political reality makes the potential rift all the more dangerous. The Law School has no strong central administration which directs the school; rather, the faculty makes most of its decisions on important issues in their meetings. It is a small faculty of some 60 members and it does not make decisions unless there is a consensus, which is why it can talk for almost ten hours without coming to a decision (as it did last Tuesday). Disrupting a faculty meeting at the Law School can be tantamount to seizing University and Massachusetts Halls.

WHILE the disruption of the faculty meeting two weeks ago and the ensuing confrontations could not have occurred without this tension between a segment of students and faculty, these events were in no way inevitable. When the Ad Board first pressed charges against the five black students, the Harvard Black Law Student Association issued a statement branding the Board an "apparent kangaroo court" whose hearings constituted a "quasi-judicial lynching." Claiming that the OBU trial of January 13 was "the only tribunal [it could] acknowledge as legitimate," the HBLSA said it considered the hearings "a farce." But after the hearings were over (none of the five defendants attended) and the decisions announced, the black students indicated that they had no intention of making an issue of the punishments. OBU's leaders (such as Philip N. Lee, president of OBU, who was placed on probation for his part in the takeover) had no desire to be drawn into what they viewed as a procedural quagmire, reasoning that their demands for more construction workers would be lost in involved disputes over governance. And the Ad Board's punishments were not so severe as to propel them into action. It placed two students on probation and two on warning status, which meant that those four students would risk suspension or dismissal if they participated in more protests.

The one student the Ad Board did suspend, Gregory K. Pilkington, had participated in the November 19 SDS sit-in-an action initiated by a small group of black students unhappy with aspects of Afro's demands on the painters helpers. He also had been associated with the Worker-Student Alliance Caucus of SDS, which has had rocky relations in the past for espousing anti-black nationalist positions. But it was the severity of Pilkington's suspension that spurred white students into action, and throughout the controversy, the white students opposed the faculty's attempts to discuss the punishments while OBU took no official position.

A small group of first-year students raised questions about the Ad Board's decisions almost immediately after they were announced. When the faculty postponed its meeting for a week to allow two of the five students time to prepare statements to read at the faculty meeting, this group asked the Committee on Governance and then Dean Derck C. Bok for an open meeting to discuss the punishments and issues of discipline raised by the decisions. Bok refused on the grounds that he did not have the authority to allow a self-appointed group to discuss the issues in a faculty meeting, but he did allow one student. John M. Sansone, the right to make a statement to the faculty. It was at that Tuesday meeting two weeks ago that 100 students entered the meeting and stayed when Bok asked them to leave. The confrontation between the 30-odd students who refused to depart and the dean stunned the faculty. Most of them sat silently as the students attempted to discuss the punishments with Bok. who insisted repeatedly that they leave. Sansone said later that the only thought the faculty seemed to have was how to get the students out of the room. The shock of that disruption, as unplanned and civil as it was, never completely faded from the minds of most faculty members. As men who place the highest emphasis on "rational" discussion and "free exchange of views." they could neither tolerate nor accept what the students felt were compelling reasons for stopping the meeting.

They met again the next day under the threat of another disruption, but this time they discussed first whether to admit student representatives to their meeting. After deciding to admit eight members of the Committee on Governance in addition to the three students on the Ad Board. the faculty moved its meeting to Holyoke Center, where it met behind locked doors, safe from the threat of disruption. Once there, however, the student representatives argued that the faculty could not make its decisions under those circumstances and without student consultation. So the faculty finally agreed to hold an open meeting.

THE RADICALS were hoping that once in a large meeting, they could convince the entire assembly that it was the only legitimate body to judge the cases. They wanted the cases dismissed, but they also argued that only the entire Law School community could make such a decision. The mass meeting drew 700 people who listened to a series of speeches by students and faculty revolving around the permissibility of disruptive acts for political goals. The faculty members argued strenuously that the University, and the Law School, could not survive if certain acts were tolerated. Stressing the need for utilizing existing procedures, they appealed to the students regard for procedure and order. While none of the speakers ignored what one called the "moral ambiguities" of balancing the need for internal order with racial justice, the faculty speakers agreed that the Ad Board's procedures were "tolerably fair." One professor argued further that the punishments were relatively light because the Ad Board had recognized the "good motives" of the students.

The radical students weighed the same factors in their speeches, and asserted that the University's decision to sign two contracts requiring 19-23 per cent minority workers on construction sites vindicated the OBU protests. Morcover, they said, the demonstrations, including the sit-in in Dean May's office, were "relatively minor interruption (s) of the University's order." Rather than creating a precedent, they said, a dismissal of the cases would be a very specific response to a specific protest. The students also argued that the Administration's lack of responsiveness forced OBU into taking such actions. "Had OBU acquiesced in the rules of procedure." one student said, "this University would have acquiesced in discriminatory procedures."

The mass meeting and subsequent smaller meetings failed to fulfill the radicals' hopes that students would demand a say in the judgment of the five black students. It is more probable that the bulk of the students flirted with the moral attractiveness of dismissing the cases, but found the faculty's arguments too compelling to wholly justify the OBU occupations. They could accept the idea that a lack of response can create a justification for using extra-legal tactics, but they could not accept that precedent-setting nature of dropping the cases. Finally, the obvious indecision of the students gave the faculty an added freedom in making its final decision.

After all the open meetings and discussions, the faculty returned to its own meetings, where it finally approved (after 14 hours of discussion) the Ad Board's decisions with only minor changes. It honored its often-repeated promise to search for better mechanisms for discipline-including official participation by students-authorizing studies by the Ad Board and Committee on Governance; and it asked the Dean and the Committee on Governance to suggest "appropriate processes to assure adequate responsiveness" to "inquiries, suggestions, and complaints," Still, the punishments will stand and one student will be suspended for the semester. To be sure, the professors and students who skirmished this round will be a little more sure of their positions next time-but for now everyone will go back to their books and a more precarious status quo at the Law School.