Law Professor Drops Charges Against Fenno

Following promises of a printed apology and retraction, Weld Professor of Law Charles R. Nesson '60 agreed Tuesday to drop Administrative Board charges spurred by the remarks of anonymous Harvard Law Record columnist Fenno.

The apology, which appears in today's issue of the Record, "unconditionally retract[s]" previous statements insinuating that Nesson used cocaine, drank heavily during his time as a law student and had sexual relations with students. Six other professors were involved in retracted statements.

According to Robert H. Friedman, publisher of the Record, in a series of meetings beginning last Friday, Record executives assured Nesson and other HLS professors that today's Record would include an apology from Fenno. They also promised that the controversial columnist would refrain from personal attacks in the future.

Nesson announced his decision to drop charges following a meeting on Tuesday with Friedman, David W. Liu and Jaclyn Liu, the three Record members named in the action.

"What I wanted in general was for the Record to function responsibly as a campus newspaper, and what I wanted specifically was a retraction and an apology," Nesson said. "They asked me if it was OK if Fenno retracted and apologized, and I said yes."


Fenno's column in today's record begins, "In this issue, Fenno repents," and continues with a list of retracted statements and explanations.

After reprinting one of the passages Nesson objected to, reading "...thirty grand translates into twelve kilos of powdered cocaine and a ticket to Amsterdam." Fenno continued, "From these words, it could be inferred that Prof. Nesson uses cocaine, which is not true. Cocaine use is legal in Amsterdam."

Friedman said the Record will continue to have the irreverent column.

"We will try to tame Fenno without censoring him," Friedman said. "Fenno will continue to do the things he has always done, but we'll be more careful in the future about people who have a radical interpretation of Fenno."

"We're going to write parodies which aren't of such a personal nature," he added.

The Fenno column has been written by an anonymous member of the Record staff for more than 40 years. Friedman said the Fenno columnist was replaced following publication of last week's Record.

Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, himself a subject for Fenno earlier this year, had agreed to defend the Record executives before the Ad Board and expressed disappointment over the apology.

"What concerns me is that the Record has taken this action in the face of a threat of discipline," Dershowitz said. "An apology was called for, but it should have been a spontaneous apology. When an apology is elicited by the threat of sanction, I get concerned."

Nesson that an Ad Board meeting would have focused on the "wrong side" of the issue, emphasizing First Amendment rights to free expression instead of responsibility and restraint in journalism.

"It was with some reluctance that I reached for some sanction. I'm delighted we didn't have to go that route," Nesson said. "I'm delighted it's settled. I'm not at all sure I would have won."

Friedman said that in the next issue of the Record, Fenno would examine the Ad Board and its power to deal with free speech issues