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First Skirmish

Brass Tacks

By David N. Hollander

AS LAW SCHOOL Dean Derek C. Bok was walking past University Hall on the day of the occupation, a student remarked to him that he must be glad that the disturbance was in the Yard and not in the Law School across the Mall. Bok replied, "Oh, I think everyone will get his turn, don't you?"

The Law School in not likely in the near future to suffer the same kind of Upheaval the College has gone through his Spring, but as the Johnson-era generation of college students moves into the professional schools it carries with it the seeds of dissatisfaction with society as a whole, and particularly with the institutions which most directly affect students. Law School faculty, recent alumni, and even third-year students assert unanimously that the place has changed beyond recognition over the last few years.

This year, the target has been grades. A large group of first-year students realized in the middle of the winter that in June they would face examinations which would virtually determine their legal careers, and they found the prospect simply unacceptable. They prepared a report which urged several educational reforms, and eventually 80 percent of the first-year class signed a petition demanding pass-fail grading this year.

The most popular courses at the Law School these days, like those in the College, are those involved in contemporary issues. If anything, there in even more demand for relevance among law student than among undergraduates. Many undergraduates have come to the conclusion that Harvard does not and will not offer courses closely connected to their interests. They think they should enjoy four years in Cambridge, and let the College try to limp along by itself.

Law students, however, want and expect the School to be the center of their three years in Cambridge. It has been an ominous development for the School--from the viewpoint of those who would like to see legal education weather the current storm with as little change as possible--that some of school's students have concluded recently that they, like undergraduates, must ignore the School to profit by their time there. One student who was active in the first-year students' movement for grade reform says the year's experience has "freed" many of his classmates. "Some of us accept the fact that the faculty can't understand the way we feel and is just irrelevant."

PROFESSORS ADMIT now that they had assumed the grading situation was a given. Once the students brought its inequities and tension to their attention, the professors were willing if not eager to agree to reforms which would eliminate the grievances--much as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, once awakened, realized that ROTC does not merit academic credit or any special treatment.

When the Faculty of Law was awakened, it characteristically set up a Committee on Grades to study the situation. The Committee moved with extreme caution and often seemed to miss the students' points. The Committee report recommends producers which should reduce the exaggerated importance of first-year grades. It also suggests that first-year students should have the option of being graded high-satisfactory-low-fail, simply pass-fail, or in nine categories the School has used since last year.

Some members of the Committee, partially because of their close contact with students during the discussions about grade reform, are among professors most aware of student sentiment. Yet the language of the Committee's report shows the continued estrangement between students and faculty "Excellence of teaching is not possible unless the teacher believes that the process by which he teaches is sound. We believe that the same must be true about learning." The same is true about learning. The Committee--a group of men with a vested interest in the system which has allowed them climb to the top of the ladder in legal education and in many cases in government--have trouble conceiving of the students' discontent except in terms of their own problems.

No one argues that the Law School is not providing a first-rank legal education. But as one student leader said, "People coming here in the past have accepted not only legal education but a whole style of life." The students today still want a solid legal education. But many of them want in the context of a life style which values draft counseling and landlord litigation above corporate or criminal law.

IF STUDENTS today want their legal education combined with a different life style, students tomorrow will insist on it. Many professors are convinced that next year's first-year class will be even harder to handle and satisfy than this year's bunch--although others have somehow convinced themselves that students who would disrupt than sanctity of the Law School with a study-in must be freakish and transient aberrations. The Committee majority report, although extremely tentative and minimally responsive to the student demands, makes clear that further reform is on the way. It recognizes that the proposals that will go to the faculty are only interim measures.

Although students cannot expect the faculty to take the lead in reform. they have the right to expect faculty cooperation in making inevitable changes. But the report may face tough going in the faculty meeting tomorrow. Professor Archibald Cox has filled a minority report which warns that the Committee is talking "a wrong turn in the history of the Law School on a most serious occasion.'

As Dean Bok wrote in the March-April Harvard Law School Bulletin, "Perhaps the greatest risk in Law schools, and in Universities as well, is that the atmosphere will get dangerously overheated.... If these dangers can be avoided, however, student discontents can provide a stimulus for a valuable reappraisal and improvement of legal education."

Whether the faculty likes it or not--and most of them do not--the grade reform controversy is only the first skirmish in what promises to be an escalating conflict. Debate over educational issues will be followed soon by confrontation over political issues. Already students have picketed a construction firm adding a wing to the school because the firm discriminated against blacks. The faculty may soon be criticized for not openly opposing the war, inequalities in American society, and political repression.

The life style the Law School has supported may be beyond saving, even by men of such enormous persuasive powers as the Law Faculty. But the Law School as a distinguished and productive institution is not in danger--unless the faculty decides to take it and themselves down with the ship of an outdated social structure.

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