Why I Like Dean Clark

Mark on the Right

Enough of this push-over attitude from university administrators. If protesters break the law, throw'em in jail.

FUNNY, ISN'T IT. The victimizers have suddenly become the victims at the Law School. The activists who just weeks ago blocked the entrance to Dean Robert C. Clark's office, effectively shutting it down for the day, now complain of being bitten by their prey.

When Clark mailed a letter of warning to those identified during the April 10 incident--and sent copies to the entire student body and faculty--members of the pro-diversity" Coalition for Civil Rights (CCR) went ballistic. The CCR, which sponsored the nine-hour sit-in, drafted a response to Clark's letter, calling his warnings "a clear attempt to chill voices of dissent on this campus."

At a rally the following day, members of the CCR further derided the dean's attempts to restore order at the school. Third-year firebrand David Troutt redefined the limits of exaggeration and overreaction by first calling the Clark letter "Gestapolike" and then demanding the dean's resignation. Other participants criticized the administration's use of cameras and video equipment to identify protesters.

The Clark controversy is not unusual on today's combative campuses, but it reveals much about the nature of academic protests--and protesters--these days. Inspired by their nostalgia for the 1960s, militants jump at the chance to demonstrate and disrupt, no matter how flimsy or ill-conceived the cause. But when challenged to defend their actions either legally or intellectually, they cry foul and rush to the protective cover of their empty rhetoric and "victim" status.


A FREQUENT SPONSOR of protests and marches, the CCR, like its counterparts at universities nationwide, bemoans the dearth of minorities and women among the Law School faculty--something most people would like to remedy. But its members ignore many realities.

Demand for qualified minority professors greatly exceeds their supply. As Abigail Thernstrom has observed, minorities, especially those from low-income backgrounds, have entered graduate schools in large numbers only recently and are more likely to take high-paying jobs after graduation than to pursue less lucrative careers in teaching. Thus, the scramble to sign minority scholars has become a zero-sum game in which the participants compete over a tiny selection of candidates and win only by snatching each other's faculty--or worse, by lowering hiring standards.

Critics of the Law School should also remember that in the last 10 years, half of the offers for tenure-track faculty and approximately 45 percent of new appointments have gone to minorities or women. Impressive numbers for a school where, according to third-year student Gloria Riveri, "there is no commitment from the faculty and administration to make a change."

But the absurdity of the CCR is nothing compared to its hypocrisy. Weeks after they broke school rules and trespassing laws, after they ignored repeated warnings to leave the office and halted administrative activity for the day (and, by some accounts, actually shoved a secretary), our defiant sitters now stand up to accuse Clark of engineering a campaign of "intimidation." Here's some of what Mr. Gestapo said in his much decried letter of abominations:

"I'm writing to put you on the clearest possible notice that future disruptions like this one, or other violations of Law School and University rules, will be immediately such as to disciplinary action." He went on to say that the protestors had "faired to exhibit proper respect for the rights of other members of the community and for the rules that protect those rights."

Hardly the stuff of command councils or the KGB, Clark's letter reads more like the windy babble of a high school principal. (Only an administrator would employ circumlocutory phrases like "failed to exhibit.") Most people would have appreciated the warning, but not the CCR. The mere prospect that its members would be held accountable for their actions was enough to send everyone into a frightened panic.

This was only to be expected given the history of risk-free disruptions over the last several years. From Dartmouth to Stanford, the typical sit-in scenario has run something like this: Angry students occupy some portion of university property, issue a list of nonnegotiable "demands," sing chants and leave in time for the next day's lectures. Spineless administrators have played their part too, often by making concessions or refusing to punish protestors for breaking the rules.

Given the laxity with which these rules are enforced, today's campus activists can march fists raised into any university office, plop themselves down on the floor and start answering questions from waiting reporters. When the hubbub dies down, they can read the books they brought with them--wouldn't want to get behind in school. Perhaps a sympathetic administrator eager to win their approval will even order pizzas and donate blankets.

Nine hours of attention and excitement--all without fear of disciplinary action. Oh sure, they might receive a stern look or a hollow warning, but nothing incriminating will mar their permanent records. With protesting made so easy and so safe, it's not surprising that sit-ins have become about as commonplace as faculty luncheons at the modern university.

IF HIS LETTER is any indication, Clark intends to put a stop to all this. By forcing students to take responsibility for their actions, he is doing what a lot of other embattled but less courageous administrators should have done long ago. No longer will violations of university rules go unpunished. No longer will administrators and faculty be forced to conform to the political calendars of those they are trying to teach. Clark is to be congratulated.