Law Ad Board Stirs Protest
Activists Call Warning, Letter Unconstitutional
When 10 Law School students were given official slaps on the wrist for their participation in an anti-apartheid sit-in last April, campus activists breathed a sigh of relief. The sit-in had been orderly, and the school's Administrative Board had quietly and expeditiously levied the mildest form of discipline.
And, unlike at the College, where a controversial Vietnam War-era committee is still conducting hearings on undergraduate participants, it appeared that law students would return this fall with the sit-in and warnings only a distant memory.
But the Law School administration does not appear so ready to forget.
An Ad Board warning, placed in a weekly administration publication and threatening harsher punishment if another such protest occurs, has prompted charges from Law students that the body is not practicing the constitutional dog ma the Law School preaches.
In addition, the Ad Board has stirred criticism for sending letters to about 120 Law students who last spring pledged solidarity with the 10 protesters sitting inside the 17 Quincy St. headquarters of Harvard's governing boards. The 119 had asked that they receive the same punishment as the 10 sit-in participants. And the Law School's response, said Law School Ad Board chairman Frank E.A. Sander '48, asks the 119 to "tell us more so we can determine whether you deserve the same punishment."
Both the warning in the publication, the HLS Adviser, and the letter to the 119 students, have raised charges from law students that the administration is trying to chill political dissent on campus. They charge, in addition, that both actions are unconstitutional and inconsistent with the principles taught in the Law School's classrooms.
The Administrative Board "notice," which routinely appears in the Adviser to inform readers of all punishments levied on students, states that any student who violates standards designed to ensure free speech and movement on campus "may face serious disciplinary sanctions rather than the Warnings issued in connection with this incident."
Douglas M. Hagerman, a third-year Law student, has written a letter to the Ad Board and Law School Dean of Students Mary D. Upton saying the warning "blatantly attempts to silence campus dissent on the divestiture issue which is totally inconsistent with the constitutional principles taught in the HLS classrooms."
Hagerman said, also, that the Ad Board has "no interest which is sufficiently compelling to warrant attempts at prior restraint of non-violent symbolic speech protected in the courts by the First Amendment."
Similarly, the letter to the 119 supporters of sit-in participants, some activists charge, "contravenes everything we've been taught about the law."
"The administration's behavior bears a strong resemblance to the Spanish Inquisition," said Nancy R. Page, a second-year Law student who is organizing a group response to the letter. "It's like McCarthy--there has been no formal notice of hearings, no charges, yet the Ad Board is going on a fishing trip for facts. It's a violation of procedural due process," Page added.
Those who received letters from the Ad Board are expected to meet informally Wednesday to coordinate a response.
Meanwhile, Law School administrators say they were within their rights to ask the 119 students to specify their involvement in the incident and to make clear to students what the Ad Board considers "permissable conduct."
Sander said the Ad Board took into account that "people might be arguably confused about what is a permissable way of voicing their protest" when it levied the mildest form of sanction on sit-in participants last May. The warning, he said, was to make clear to protesters that forcible entry and refusal to leave upon request were "clearly inappropriate."
Still, Hagerman said the Resolution on Rights and Responsibilities, which forms the basis of the Law School's disciplinary action against the students, is "extremely vague," therefore making it difficult for students to judge what is in violation of it. He and other activists say they fear the warning and the letter will cause protesters to stay home.
"What we're objecting to is the implicit threat to supporters of protest that because they support protest, they are going to be subject to inquisitorial proceedings," said Michael T. Anderson '83-'84, a second-year Law student.
The Ad Board will meet shortly to discuss the complaints about the letter to the 119 and to begin disciplinary proceedings for three students involved in another spring protest, the blockade of a South African diplomat in the Lowell House Junior Common Room.