Law Students Admonished for PSLM Sit-In
The Administrative Board of Harvard Law School officially reprimanded four students Friday involved in the occupation of Massachusetts Hall, declining to impose the less-severe punishment of a warning, which has been the standard punishment for sit-ins in recent memory.
The reprimands will be placed on the students’ transcripts and can be reported to state Board of Bar Examiners, which could have a negative impact on the professional careers of the so-called “Law School four.”
First-year law student Faisal I. Chaudhry, second-year Ashwini Sukthankar, second-year Fatma E. Marouf and third-year Aaron D. Bartley were present at the six-and-a-half hour long public hearing deciding their disciplinary fate. More than 50 people attended, including faculty members, alumni, dining hall workers and a representative from the United Ministry.
“I’m disappointed and surprised,” said attorney John D. Fitzpatrick of the harsher-than-expected punishment. Fitzpatrick and Law School professor Lani Guinier represented the four students.
Fitzpatrick declined to critique the decision until the Administrative Board issues its written opinion later this month.
On May 15, the College students involved in the sit-in received three weeks of disciplinary probation from the College Administrative Board, and the two Kennedy School of Government students involved received no disciplinary action.
But the Progressive Student Labor Movement (PSLM) was less hesitant to criticize the board, calling its reprimands “politically motivated” and “petty.”
“The ad board should be ashamed to punish these students,” PSLM member Amy C. Offner ’01 wrote in an e-mail to Chair of the Ad Board Richard D. Parker, a professor of criminal justice.
Parker declined to comment to The Crimson.
The four students were formally charged with violating the Rights and Responsibilities section of the law school catalog, found in Appendix A of the book.
The Ad Board seemed to focus on a clause in the section that reads, “Interference with members of the University in performance of their normal duties and activities must be regarded as unacceptable obstruction of the essential processes of the University.”
“I think the issue is interference, not prevention,” Parker said during the hearing.
The Ad Board hired an investigator, Law School Senior Reference Librarian Janet C. Katz, to gather evidence for the hearing—which included transcripts of conversations with individuals involved in the sit-in.
Katz transcribed her conversations with 12 staff members of Mass. Hall, occasionally reading from their “testimonies” during the hearing, and at other times making generalizations to the board about the staff members’ experience during the sit-in.
She emphasized the “egregious behavior” of the students towards the support staff in the building.
The testimony focused on allegations of filming of staff members, restrictions of freedom of movement, shouts of “Shame on you,” a tripping incident, the smells of the protesters, putting flyers in the faces of staffers and an incident where a PSLM member compared two staff members to Nazis.
None of the Law School’s students were identified by any of the witnesses as being involved in these alleged incidents.
“It’s like post-traumatic stress disorder,” testified Executive Assistant to the Provost Sarah K. Wood about the effects the sit-in has had on her.
“I experienced sleeplessness, stomachaches and frequent headaches,” Elizabeth Guerrero, an assistant to the Vice President of Government, Community and Public Affairs, told the Ad Board.
But Wood, who supports the campaign for a living wage, said she thinks the ends might justify the means.
“Did you think the result was worth it?” Fitzpatrick asked her.
“Well, actually yes,” she responded.
Katz focused the testimony of the witnesses she called on the first three days of the sit-in.
After those first days, the sit-in was a “peaceful but pungent experience,” Wood said.
A PSLM member confronted Guerrero and her colleague, she recalls, about signing a statement supporting the sit-in. When Guerrero’s colleague said that it wasn’t her place to sign anything, the PSLM member became angry at them.
“That’s what the Nazis said at Nuremberg,” she recalls him saying.
Guerrero says she was tripped by a student as she walked down the main hallway of Mass. Hall.
Sukthankar and Marouf disagree with her perception of the incident. They testified that the student was actually trying to retract his leg and that the tripping was unintentional.
All four law students said they didn’t see any incidents of protesters putting flyers in the face of staff members, an experience which Guerrero claimed happened to her.
The three assistants who testified claimed that the protesters chanted “Shame on you” at them in the first days of the sit-in.
“I wanted to cry,” Wood said. “I didn’t understand why I was singled out.”
The students said that she wasn’t. They said the chants were only directed at individuals they thought were officers of the University.
“I have no problem with that,” Parker said about his attitude towards the students chanting at top administrators.
Harvard University Police Chief Francis D. “Bud” Riley testified that the students often didn’t know whom they were chanting at in the first few days of the sit-in, as they tried to identify different people within the administration.
But the students said they only used the chant “Shame on you” on one occasion, at Provost Harvey V. Fineberg ’67. They speculated that perhaps the support staff perceived the chant as directed at them, as well.
Riley categorized the sit-in as “genteel” and called the students “nice kids.” He noted that the students sent flowers to the support staff and said he observed them apologizing for the disruption.
Six witnesses were called by the defense and echoed Riley’s sentiments: a lawyer for the AFL-CIO, a dining services union representative, a Mass. Hall custodian, a priest from the United Ministries and three faculty members.
“It was the most extraordinarily civil example of civil disobedience I have ever seen,” Adams House Co-Master Sean Palfrey testified.
The relationship between the students and staff ranged from “the cordial to the correct,” said AFL-CIO Associate General Counsel Damon A. Silvers `86, who spent many hours during the sit-in meeting with students and top administrators.
“No one said to us anything about [the protesters] being rude or abusive,” he said.
A Mass. Hall custodian testified that she thought the students were “very courteous.”
“They asked for cleaning equipment to keep the place clean,” she said. “They helped me take out trash.”
Aside from the specific allegations of student interference, the hearing also focused on the larger issues relating to the sit-in.
“I have a question about how we should think about civil disobedience,” Parker said in the middle of the hearing. “There’s no way to avoid that.”
The testimony of the four students began with their personal stories and an apology to the support staff who were still present at the hearing.
“I just want to apologize,” said Chaudhry, who is on a leave of absence from John Hopkins Medical School. “The purpose of our actions was not maliciously directed towards any staff members.”
Chaudhry says he isn’t sure what effect the reprimand will have on his ability to resume his medical studies.
The soft-spoken New Jersey native seemed somewhat nervous when speaking, and Guinier had to keep asking him to speak up.
Marouf, whose father is Egyptian and mother is Turkish, said she became interested in the living wage issue because she has many relatives in America who live in poverty simply because they don’t speak English.
“Having read the statement of rights and responsibilities, I do not perceive my actions as a violation of them,” she said.
Unlike previous sit-ins, Marouf said the protesters had never been told to exit Mass. Hall.
“Rudenstine said things like, ‘It would be nice if you left the building, but he never told us to get out of the building,’ she testified.
Riley’s prior statement supported her.
“The warning to disperse was never made explicitly to them,” he said.
Although Fitzpatrick argued to the Ad Board that the students should receive no punishment, Bartley testified that he felt the board needed to give some form of punishment, and that a warning was appropriate.
“I think you have to,” he told the Ad Board. “Sit-ins get warnings here.”
In May 1992, the Law School Ad Board issued a warning to 8 students involved in a 25-hour sit-in of Dean Robert C. Clark’s office to protest the lack of minority and female faculty at the school.
The students involved in that sit-in were asked to leave the premises.
Guinier argued that the students on trial yesterday should receive a less harsh punishment because “they were never asked to leave.”
“It is my opinion that what the students did in their symbolic presence in Massachusetts Hall fulfilled their responsibilities as lawyers-in-training,” she said.
She also argued that because it has been the first instance in many years that Law School students were involved in a sit-in, their punishment should be less severe. A precedent, she argued, that was established by the registrar after the 1992 sit-in.
Fitzpatrick attacked the statement of rights and responsibilities as vague, saying “it would not survive constitutional scrutiny.”
He also attacked what he called the “hurried nature of these proceedings.”
The students say they only had one week to prepare for yesterday’s formal hearing, in which charges that they say are broad and vague were heard.
The students did not know until 24 hours before the hearing that members of the administrative staff of Mass. Hall would be testifying against them.
Bartley said that the defense team would have spoken with staff at Mass. Hall if they had known more than one day in advance that Katz would be calling assistants to testify.
“The manner in which the evidence was gathered helped to determine the outcome,” Bartley said after the hearing.
The members of the defense team had a number of complaints about Katz and the role she played in the hearing.
Katz declined to comment for the story.
“She definitely took her job very seriously,” Bartley said. “There was a zealousness about it that I hope did not cloud her judgment.”
Some of the other students were less kind in their comments about the woman they referred to as “the prosecutorial agent.”
“It seemed absolutely absurd,” Chaudhry said. “This woman is testifying on behalf of various people she’s interviewed.”
Katz noted during the hearing that “I’m speaking on their [the administrative staff’s] behalf.”
“She made these snide remarks and spoke very sarcastically,” Chaudhry said.
Katz asked the Ad Board if they wanted her to make a closing statement, but Parker said it was unnecessary.
“She was clearly very emotionally invested,” Marouf said, “especially when she introduced her perceptions of subjective emotional states.”
Ad Board member Barbara A. Grayson, a third-year law student, said that investigators play a neutral role in the hearing.
“We don’t call them a prosecutor,” she says. “They’re supposed to provide information on what the charges are.”
The board will release the numerical breakdown of the votes, but not the names of who voted for each punishment, later this month.
The eight-member board was split three ways between handing down warnings, reprimands or suspensions, according to Dean of Students Suzanne Richardson.
—Staff writer Amit R. Paley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.