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Tensions over the hiring of minority faculty members at Harvard Law School were played out this week in settings ranging from the classroom to the courtroom.
Though protests over minority hiring are a perennial event at the Law School--occurring each spring around the time of faculty hiring decisions--this year the uproar seems to have taken on a new sense of urgency.
Minority hiring activists have taken particular umbrage at a decision two weeks ago by the Law School faculty to offer tenured positions to four white men.
Students claimed this "outrageous move" violated the school's policy of hiring visiting professors only once they have left campus. Two of the professors are currently visiting at the school.
But Law School Dean Robert C. Clark said the appointments committee rescinded this policy last spring and that it has been applied evenhandedly. Coalition members had charged that the policy was used to deny tenure to two Black women visiting professors last year.
A few days after the faculty's decision, the student-organized coalition for Civil Rights made a previously-scheduled presentation to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, attempting to obtain standing to sue the Law School for discrimination in faculty hiring.
And shortly after that, Weld Professor of Law Derrick A. Bell Jr. announced he would not return to the school next year. In spring of 1990, Bell took an unpaid leave of absence from his post, saying he would return when the school tenured a Black woman.
Though Bell requested an extension of his leave of absence--two years being the standard limit--President Neil L. Rudenstine said that Bell would have to do what he believed to be right but that he did not see a reason to waive the limit.
This week, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson joined the fray, speaking in support of minority hiring activists in an appearance at the school.
But the climax of the present conflict came yesterday, as an eight-day ultimatum period set by student activists for Clark to address their concerns drew to a close.
Clark issued a letter Wednesday defending the Law School's minority hiring record and stating that the school intends to continue its efforts in that area.
But at an early-morning meeting yesterday, students said they were not satisfied with Clark's response. Clark then called a two-hour "town meeting" which more than one-third of the Law School faculty attended.
At the meeting, students called for the appointments process to be made more accountable to students, suggesting that a student be allowed to sit on the committee.
But faculty members said they did not believe students are qualified to decide on candidates' qualifications.
Students accused Clark of delivering mere promises in his Wednesday letter of response. Clark, however, insisted that the faculty's resolution asking the hiring committee to provide a tentative list of minority and women candidates was a serious attempt to diversify the faculty.
Clark said he was working to bring more minorities and women--particularly women--onto the faculty. Of 64 tenured or tenured-tracked professors, six are Black men and five are white women.
According to this year's Affirmative Action Plan for the University, the Law School would need one more women in order to match the national percentage of tenured women law professors.
But student activists said they would not be satisfied by the school's hiring only "a few more white women."
They said they want the school to consider women candidates who are Black or any candidates from minority groups not represented on the faculty such as Asian-Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians.
Student criticism of the recent tenure offers has been sharpened by an admission on the part of Clark and Professor of Law Duncan M. Kennedy that the appointments process was highly political. At an open forum last week, Clark called the four men a "politically balanced package."
Students who have attended the professors' classes characterize Henry Hansman as relatively conservative, Robert H. Mnookin '64 as "slightly left of center," Joseph Singer as a critical legal studies scholar and Joel H. H. Weiler as a moderate.
Political strife between critical legal studies scholars and conservative faculty members has paralyzed the appointments process, according to Clark.
But administrators' arguments that the package was a political compromise that would make future minority and women appointments easier did not satisfy its critics.
Students questioned whether appointments could truly be merit-based if the process is so political. They added that they believe their input is undervalued in the appointments process.
The committee is concerned more with scholarship than with teaching ability, the students alleged.
At yesterday's meeting, Clark agreed to establish regular sessions with students concerned about the issue of minority hiring. The first session is scheduled for Monday.
Some observers have noted that Clark's style of handling student protests has changed somewhat since he arrived in 1989. In that academic year, the dean responded to student demonstrations and to a takeover of his office in what many called a confrontational manner.
This year, Clark has had more ready responses to their demands, offering them meetings and letters.
But it remains to be seen whether those responses will ultimately translate into a resolution of the situation that is acceptable to students, faculty and administrators.
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