Law School Housing Program Instructors Pushed Out

Tenant Advocacy Program leaders to be replaced this summer

Student leaders of a housing advocacy group at Harvard Law School (HLS) learned this week that their two veteran instructors are being forced out of the job after more than 20 years of guiding the student practice organization.

Current clinical instructors for the Tenant Advocacy Program (TAP)—attorneys Marcia C. Peters and Lynn Weissberg—will be replaced on July 1 by instructors from the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center, a general practice law office in Boston that is maintained by HLS.

TAP is one of five student practice organizations in existence at HLS. Its 45 members—along with support from Peters and Weissberg—represent residents of publicly funded housing before local housing authorities in cases of eviction and other issues.

But TAP’s student leaders said they have qualms with the leadership switch and say that the move to hire Hale and Dorr instructors was made without considering its effects on their organization.

“There truly is this clinical restructuring going on and we were not consulted,” said TAP co-chair Virginia B. Boyd. “I think students need to have some voice in making that decision.”

Boyd, along with TAP co-chair Kevin M. Askew, met with Law School Vice Dean for Administration and Budget Howell E. Jackson on Tuesday to discuss the matter. Boyd said Jackson explained in the meeting that HLS is making an effort to reduce the number of outside attorneys advising student practice organizations, to save cash and to make use of excess capacity at the school’s Hale and Dorr office.

In a statement to The Crimson, Jackson said the move is part of a larger effort to integrate clinical programs at HLS and will not alter the TAP program in any way.

“There is clearly no elimination of support,” he said. “In fact, our expectation is that there will be better support for the TAP program using this integrated model and that we may be able to get them more educational opportunities with this new approach.”

Askew said he was concerned with the financial motives behind the change.

“We feel strongly that in this era when the Law School is expanding in other areas and undertaking huge building renovations, this really sends the wrong message about the commitment to the students and community,” he said.

Peters and Weissberg are part-time employees at HLS and are paid for approximately 9 hours of work each week, Peters said.

Peters—who has been with the program since 1982—said that while she and Weissberg were expecting the structure of the clinical program to change soon, they were frustrated by the means administrators employed to reach the decision.

“We expected committees, studies, inclusion of students, clinical instructors and alumni/ae, and slow careful thought...not a sudden hacking of one piece,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Jackson said the decision was made after a “fair amount of study” and following the recommendations of officials in the Office of Clinical Programs at HLS.

“I think it means that the institutional knowledge that Marcia and I have will be lost entirely,” Weissberg, who has been with TAP since 1981, said. “I think students will be starting out with people who can’t bring the experience that we have.”

But Jackson said that he thinks that the new leadership will provide a new model for an integrated clinical program.

“While the attorneys who have been supporting the TAP program have done a great job over the years, the direction that we’re experimenting with now is a greater degree of integration and we’re going to see how that works out,” he said.

But Boyd disagreed, saying “the people at the [Hale and Dorr office] are great, but they have a lot to learn.”

Askew said the group is trying to mobilize support from alumni and TAP members, and plan to meet with Law School Dean Elena Kagan next month to discuss the issue.

—Staff writer Javier C. Hernandez can be reached at jhernand@fas.harvard.edu.