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Last Friday, students and staff critical of race relations at Harvard Law School issued a long list of demands to Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, insisting that she present a “strategic plan” for their implementation by 9 a.m. last Monday morning. When that unreasonable timeline was unmet, more than 100 students gathered to protest her supposed failure to address their concerns.
The demands, made by a newly organized group called Reclaim Harvard Law School, are for major institutional changes—including, among others, the removal of the Harvard Law School seal, establishment of a critical race theory program, and mandatory “serious study into the implications of racism, white supremacy, and imperialism in creating and perpetuating legal analysis and thought”—that cannot be met in a weekend. They can’t even be considered properly in that timeline.
So let’s consider them now. Some, such as the improvement of financial aid, are meaningful goals that the Law School would do well to aim toward. Others, like the creation of a “committee on diversity and inclusion,” seem benign on their faces, though Reclaim Harvard Law School’s stipulations that the 10 of the 20 members be students and that all members “must be individuals who share…an awareness of problems of inequality and non-inclusion” seem suspect.
And then there are those demands that are truly concerning, even beyond the misguided but ultimately symbolic movement to remove the Harvard Law School seal: the insistence on revising curricula to meet a preconceived ideological agenda. The group seeks to impose a mandatory first-year course on all students that would address “racial justice and inequality in the law,” as well as “implicit bias/cultural competency training” at the start of the year.
Other proposals are similarly off the mark. The insistence that Harvard Law professors, often the top practitioners in their fields, be taught how to properly “contextualize” their material and that student evaluations include questions on whether faculty “contextualize” their lectures properly smacks of overbearing academic regulation. Add to that the demand that a newly established Office of Diversity and Inclusion have “a full and equal seat at the table for all discussions and decisions on curricular changes,” and a full-fledged threat to academic freedom forms.
After the recent vandalism of portraits of black professors, it’s clear that issues of race still continue at the Law School. But vilifying Minow for not immediately acceding to all these demands in a weekend solves little.
In an email to affiliates Monday, Minow described the Law School as “a community of many voices and hopes,” going on to write that the school has “an obligation to provide and protect the opportunity for all to participate, speak and be heard.” Hers is the right attitude.
Progress may be a duty on us all, but it must happen deliberately, with due consideration of consequences. Academic freedom is too important to sacrifice, even in the name of a cause as important as racial equality.
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