When legal aid projects from all over the country need help in fighting public education cases, they turn to the Harvard Center for Law and Education (CLE) for assistance.
The Center, which sponsors research in the field of education law, aids clients from as far away as Alaska who would otherwise be unable to afford legal services.
The CLE's recent cases include disputes involving school desegregation, state funding for parochial schools and American Indian education.
Daniel Rosenfelt, who is in charge of Indian education cases for the CLE, said Monday that to the best of his recollection, the Center has never lost a case.
The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), a Federal program, supports most of this work, but the future of Federal funding--and thus of the Center--is in doubt. OEO itself is in danger of being disbanded by the Nixon administration, although a Federal judge stalled this action when he ruled last month that Congressional approval to end OEO would be necessary.
OEO has informed the Center that it will continue to receive monthly grants until Congress acts on a forthcoming Law Service Commission bill, which President Nixon will propose.
J. Herald Flannery, deputy director of the Center, said however that OEO funding could still be cut off before this time.
Members of the Center are taking a "wait and see" attitude toward its future, and some lawyers on the staff have taken other jobs in anticipation of funding cuts.
"The Center accumulates a lot of expertise under one roof," and allows smaller organizations to bring big and expensive cases, Indian education expert Rosenfelt said.
He added, though, that members of the Center "are more optimistic now than a year ago."
Frank Michelman, professor of Law and co-chairman of the CLE, said Wednesday that the Center's fate depends on whether OEO continues to fund it directly.
If Congress establishes a legal services corporation, he said, the CLF may lose funding. He added, however, that he does not think it is in "immediate danger of losing funds." The CLE was founded in 1969 as a joint project of the schools of Law and of Education. Its original emphasis was on research, but in March 1970, when OEO funding began, the Center started to concentrate more on litigation, Flannery said.
"OEO indicated that they wanted a more activist role for their money," he said.
Today, OEO supplies 80 per cent of the Center's funding. The rest comes from Harvard.
Flannery said that about half of the CLE's activities are concerned with litigation, about 20 per cent with legislative counselling and about 30 per cent in research and publications.
Inequality In Education, a quarterly magazine, is published by the CLE.
Two years ago, the Center was the object of an investigation, led by then acting dean of the Law School Albert M. Sacks, after the center became embroiled in a bitter internal controversy, which some said involved the direction that it would take.
David L. Kirp, then director of the CLE, fired 5 out of 11 staff attorneys. He denied, though, that the action resulted from policy differences with the five attorneys.
Several CLE lawyers claimed at the time that the firings were caused by Kirp's desire to move the Center away from litigation and toward an increasing emphasis on research.
Flannery said that the investigation is "ancient history" now. He said that some organizational changes resulted from it, but that "the Center's priorities and direction were almost no part of the inquiry."
"It was a personal dispute," he said, "between people who didn't see eye to eye on many things."
He added that Kirp left the CLE a few months after the controversy.
Operations at the Center seem to be continuing normally, despite the uncertain status of its funding.
In its litigation efforts, the CLE won a court decision this week, allowing it to name President Nixon as a defendant in a civil suit involving impoundment of funds for Indian schools.
Rosenfelt said that this was "the first case in which the judicial branch ruled that it has jurisdiction over the President."
Model for Others
Closer to home, Flannery said that two CLE lawyers recently drafted the Massachusetts Bilingual Education Act, which he said has served as a model for other states as well.
He said that CLE lawyers had submitted briefs in a California case which struck down state appropriations for parochial schools.
CLE lawyers are working on a wide range of other cases, including a suit to force the Federal government to build more schools for Alaskan Eskimos