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Law Students Seek Curriculum Change

Public Interest Debate Heating Up

By Philip M. Rubin

Six months ago, Harvard Law students launched a petition drive in protest of Dean Robert C. Clark's decision to eliminate the school's public service career counseling office.

A majority of the student body signed it, but it resulted in few immediate changes.

Now, a group of students is launching an intensive lobbying effort aimed at individual faculty members in an effort to make public interest education a permanent part of the school's curriculum.

The group--led by students from the Emergency Coalition for Public Interest Placement (ECPIP)--hopes to convince faculty members that Harvard should require its students to do public interest work while in school, as well as require them to take a course in poverty law.

According to the students involved, both reforms are aimed at specific flaws in the existing curriculum.

Currently, law students must study five subjects in their first year: contracts, torts, criminal, property and civil procedure. Poverty law, although an elective available to all students, is not required of first-years.

In addition, while public service work is now mandatory at schools such as Tulane and the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard has no such policy.

As a result, students say, Harvard's curriculum encourages students to pursue careers in the private sector, even though they may be more needed in public service.

Students have protested throughout this academic year, but Steven R. Donziger, one of the campaign leaders, hopes the current effort better "translates the outcry into specific policy proposals."

To win over the faculty, the students hope to "assign" each faculty member to two students participating in the campaign. By meeting with their professor personally, the students can have a much greater impact than previous protests have had, campaign organizers hope.

Students active in the public interest debate are concerned with more than just the curriculum issue, but Donziger said that "we have the most realistic chance [of success] with this issue."

Donziger said it was especially important for Harvard to make such a change because its prominence would encourage many other schools to follow.

"There's a lot at stake here," Donziger said. "And I expect the faculty to be behind [some change]."

More to Come

Meanwhile, the public interest debate promises to heat up even more in the next two weeks.

Tuesday, the Law School Council will publish the final copy of its "white paper," a report to Clark and the members of the Public Interest Action Committee (PIAC), a group Clark convened after the student protests this fall.

That white paper will come out one day before Clark's open forum on the public interest issue--a forum which promises to spark lively, if not bitter, debate between Clark and students.

The forum "will be one of the key events in this debate," said Jason B. Adkins, a member of ECPIP. "A whole dialogue has been stimulated on campus [by this] unifying, rallying issue."

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