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Quiet Spring Belies Subtle Shift in Clark's Attitude on Diversity

By Rajath Shourie

On April 14, 1993, the Law School community was flabbergasted.

In their mailboxes in Harkness Commons, law students found a letter from Dean Robert C. Clark. Claiming that "the time to act has come," the letter announced that Harvard would offer tenure to four prominent minority legal scholars, including University of Oklahoma professor Anita Hill.

At the Law School, where activists have been rallying for greater diversity on the faculty for years, most students were ecstatic. The dean's office was bombarded with enthusiastic phone calls, congratulating him on his change of heart.

There was just one problem--the dean didn't actually write the letter.

Sure, it was on his letterhead. And the signature at the end was a pretty good forgery. Even in its writing style the letter was astonishingly similar to Clark's occasional epistles to the community.

The amazing thing about the fake Clark letter was just how many people did believe it was authentic. It shows, subtly, that things have changed at the Law School.

Last year, in the face of student protests for increased faculty diversity, the Law School offered tenure to a group of scholars who came to be known as the Four White Males.

In the politically charged and often openly hostile climate that then prevailed, students would have quickly sniffed out the absurd in a fake letter from Clark.

This year, things have been a little different. Early in the spring semester, the Law School offered tenure to two female professors, Carol Rose of Yale and Elizabeth Warren of the University of Pennsylvania, who is currently a visiting professor at Harvard.

Although neither woman accepted Harvard's offer, most students now recognize that some change has occurred, even if it has not been as swift as they would have liked.

And late last month, the Law School faculty voted unanimously to offer a tenured post to Assistant Professor of Law Charles J. Ogletree, who is Black. Ogletree is best known for his role as counsel to Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas.

The shift at the Law School seems to have come from the top--with students saying they see a definite change in Dean Clark.

Clark went through his first uneventful spring, with no major student protests. For his part, Clark is wary of even talking about the more peaceful atmosphere at the school.

"I have this funny feeling that if I tried to analyze it, it would go away," he said.

Despite the lack of vocal activism, however, the Law School is by no means clear of all its problems. Several important concerns remain.

For one, neither Rose nor Warren accepted permanent appointments at Harvard, supporting the widespread notion that the Law School's atmosphere is less than lukewarm to women and minority scholars.

And then there was the Catharine MacKinnon, affair. MacKinnon, a preeminent feminist legal scholar, was considered by the Law School for tenure, but came up short of the two-thirds vote necessary for an offer.

For a brief while, MacKinnon's case energized student protesters, who took the faculty's rejection of her as a sign that there are still problems with, and deep divisions within, the Law School faculty.

However, if the Law School community is so ready to believe that Clark would instantly offer tenure to four minority scholars, perhaps a greater sea change does lie ahead--with an authentic signature.

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