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Members of one of Harvard Law School’s largest student organizations say they are being shut out of discussions on changes to an introductory course on legal research and writing that could shape the group’s future.
A representative on the committee overhauling the First-Year Lawyering (FYL) Program, a full-year course that is roughly analogous to the College’s expository writing requirement for freshmen, said he was pressured to resign from the panel due to his membership in the Board of Student Advisers (BSA). Second- and third-year law students in BSA now serve as teaching assistants in the introductory course.
Jay Cox, a second-year law student, said he stepped down from the panel after fellow FYL committee members voted to request his resignation. Third-year law student Daniel Richenthal, a member of the committee, said the vote was unanimous.
The committee’s co-chair, Fairchild Professor of Law Andrew L. Kaufman ’51, said in an interview yesterday that the presence of a BSA member on the panel would prevent a “frank and open discussion” of the group’s role in FYL.
In April, the Law School faculty overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal that could diminish the BSA teaching assistants’ role, voting to double the number of professional lecturers teaching first-year law students in the course.
Kaufman said that move would halve class sizes, but it would also reduce the need for students in teaching assistant roles. The faculty also voted to hire non-BSA members for teaching assistant jobs—a decision which the group vehemently protested.
Law School Dean Elena Kagan said in an interview yesterday that she supported the committee’s decison to ask for Cox’s resignation. Kaufman and Kagan both said an earlier committee that drafted the FYL overhaul proposal in the spring had also barred BSA members. “The precedent was set last year,” Kaufman said.
Third-year law student Ronald M. Varnum, who is president of the BSA, said the committee was inconsistent with its conflict-of-interest policy. He said that committee member Virginia Wise, a senior lecturer on law for legal research, “has been involved directly with the existing [FYL] program.”
Wise said that while she taught in the program for three years, she is not involved in the program currently.
Kagan said administrators had left FYL’s professional lecturers off both the earlier committee and the current panel because they are “too close to the program.” She said the committee members should be “neutral observers” without a “vested interest” in the outcome of the program’s overhaul.
The panel now has two student members, both of whom are not affiliated with the BSA.
Holly Hogan, president of the Law Students Council, said she will meet with Kaufman and Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove this afternoon to discuss student representation on the committee. Hogan’s group selected Cox for a student post on the FYL committee and was surprised to learn that the panel barred BSA members from its ranks.
Kaufman said he has offered Cox a role as an “informal consultant” to the committee. “I don’t want to lose your input entirely,” Kaufman told Cox.
Richenthal, another student representative, said the committee “felt that Jay was an honorable person,” but that Cox’s membership on the panel “really was a fairly clear conflict of interest.” Richenthal noted that the committee has valued the BSA’s input throughout the reform process, and that “final decisions as to the status of the BSA in the FYL program have not been made.”
Cox said that the committee is “considering getting rid of the BSA’s teaching function entirely, which would more or less get rid of the organization.”
But Varnum stressed that the BSA would ultimately determine its own fate. In addition to its involvement with the first-year program, the BSA administers student course evaluations, moot court exercises and contract law simulations.
The Law School established FYL four years ago after employers complained that Harvard graduates didn’t have adequate research and writing skills.
—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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