The Law School Becomes a BATTLEGROUND

Academic Debate Between Crits and Conservatives Heats Up

Crits vs. conservatives. Everyone at the Law School knows about this ongoing debate, but the fight reached a new level in this semester's highly politicized atmosphere. This time the battleground is the school's appointments process.

The critical legal studies scholars, known as crits, for the most part maintain that the school's hiring policies are discriminatory and systematically exclude women and minorities.

The conservatives accuse the liberal crits of tokenism and maintain that the school uses fair criteria in judging all candidates.

There is one thing about which everyone agrees. This semester the appointments process is overtly politicized. Both sides accuse the other of letting ideological concerns override concerns about scholarship.

The debate is as old as critical legal studies--a left wing group of scholars who believe that law is subjective and must be viewed in a larger context.


Currently both the crits and the conservatives make up a third of the Law School faculty--a balance that both sides are fighting to maintain.

The battle over political control at the Law School intensified in the months before President Derek C. Bok appointed Dean Robert C. Clark. Clark was known as a conservative professor, who many believed would likely attempt to weaken the critical legal studies contingent.

This year, as Dean Clark appeared to lose control of the student protests, the crits stepped in, making their disagreements with the conservatives public in open letters to the community. The conservatives fired back with similar letters.

In recent years, the debate between crits and conservatives dramatically slowed the Law School appointments process.

But in an effort to pass a package of appointments, the crits and conservatives did make compromises this year. Four white men were offered lateral tenure appointments, a move which Dean Clark acknowledges was the result of political bargaining.

The package of Henry Hansman, Robert H. Mnookin '64, Joseph Singer, and Joel H. H. Weiler, consisted of a conservative, a crit and two moderates, students say.

The controversy over the tenure offers was heightened by a dispute over a rule requiring visiting professors to leave Harvard for at least a year before being considered.

Students said the faculty had used that rule to deny consideration of tenure to two black women professors last year. Two of the male professors were visiting at the school at the time the offers were made.

But Clark said the appointments committee overturned the rule last spring and suggested the need for better communication with students. Some professors, such as critical legal studies scholar Professor Frank I. Michelman, supported the students' call for a student representative on the appointments committee to enable greater student participation.

In a year of controversy, it is not surprising that the appointments process itself has come under attack and debate.