Student Activists Put on Pressure

Dean Clark Battles Sit-ins, Protests

In September, it looked like it was going to be a good year for Law School Dean Robert C. Clark.

He kicked off a $150 million dollar fundraising campaign. The student activists who had been troubling him for years were coming off a year of setbacks, and several of their most vocal leaders were due to graduate in June . Even Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz was off promoting his bestseling book, Chutzpah and remained relatively quiet.

But 1991-92 turned into a nightmare for the dean.

In March, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson spoke at the school, and drew national attention to student calls for more faculty diversity. And in April, even the usually tranquil Harvard Law Reivew added to the controversy by publishing a parody of an article by a slain feminist scholar on the an niversary of her death.

The dean ended the year with low approval ratings--only 54 percent of the student body voted in a non-binding referendum to allow the dean to speak at graduation.


The campus remained relatively quiet throughout the fall semester, the clam broken only with a new in November that the Massachusetts Court of Appleals had agreed to hear an appeal of a case brought by the students that alleged that the Law school used discriminatory hiring practices.

But in late January the student activists were energized when the Supreme Judicial court decided to grant direct appellate review, enabling the students to baypass the appeals court.

The high court heard the case in March. From then on, the year was filled with more than the usual share of student dissatisfaction.

The case was brought to the Massachusetts courts by the Law School Coalition for Civil Rights, a student group composed of six minority organizations and the Women's Law Association, which would be responsible for much of the ensuing unrest.

The coalition was appealing an earlier decision by a lower court which dismissed the case on the grounds that students are not the appropriate group to challenge the school's hiring policies. The case is the first in which law students are suing their school for discrimination in faculty hiring.

The coalition, represented in court by two third-year law students, has filed for the right to discovery, which would give them access to previously confidential personnel files.

If the court finds for the coalition, the case will be returned to the Massachusetts Superior court, which will then address the charges of discrimination in hiring practices.

The five justices on the bench will likely make their decision by early this summer.

In the days following the oral arguments, the protest season began.

It started with a speech on the steps of Langdell Hall by Weld Professor of Law Derrick A. Bell Jr., who took an unpaid leave of absence in April 1990 to protest the absence of a woman of color on the faculty.