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Law School Faculty Defend Minow, Criticize Activists

By Claire E. Parker, Crimson Staff Writer

A week after Harvard Law School’s seal change became final, a group of faculty members are publicly speaking out in support of Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, charging that student activists at the school have not given her due credit for her efforts to address racial issues on campus.

Seven Law School faculty members—Glenn Cohen, Randall L. Kennedy, Richard J. Lazarus, Todd D. Rakoff, Carol S. Steiker, Kristen A. Stilt, and David B. Wilkins—published an open letter in the Harvard Law Record Monday defending Minow.

They wrote, “Our goal here is… to express our support and deep appreciation for Dean Minow and all that she has done during this difficult and important process, and to advance the cause of justice throughout her long and distinguished career.”

The Law School has been grappling with racial tension on campus since the fall, and Minow herself has been the subject of both scrutiny and praise. After a racially-charged incident of vandalism in November, a coalition of students formed the group Reclaim Harvard Law, demanding Minow take steps to improve treatment of minorities and intensifying appeals to change the school’s controversial seal, which has ties to slavery.

In response, Minow created a committee to reconsider the seal, and that committee released a report to the Harvard Corporation in early March recommending its removal. Last week, the Corporation granted the Law School permission to change the seal, and the process to remove it is currently underway.

Since November, Minow has also pledged to hire more minority faculty members, make changes to orientation programming for incoming students, and administer a campus-wide climate survey related to diversity.

However, activists remain vocal critics of the dean. In February, they interrupted an awards ceremony at Brandeis University honoring Minow’s scholarship on race and divided societies, calling the prize “a hypocrisy.” When some condemned the protest, Reclaim Harvard Law member Alexander J. Clayborne authored an op-ed in the Record defending the activists’ critiques of Minow.

“Our critics seem to think that we are unaware of Dean Minow’s scholarship and her contributions to the legal field in advancing the causes of gender and racial equality,” he wrote. “Yet we did not protest in ignorance. Indeed, we protested precisely because we are intimately acquainted with her work.”

While activists welcomed the seal change, they are still pushing for the remainder of their demands—including establishing a critical race theory program—and their reproofs of Minow continue.

Some faculty members, however, defend Minow particularly in light of her role in the seal change process. While they wrote in their open letter that they support Reclaim Harvard Law’s goals, the professors call activists’ criticisms of Minow “exaggerated and unfair.”

“We believe that it is both wrong and counterproductive that some members of the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement and other individuals and organizations have singled Dean Minow out for such sharp and unfair criticism,” the professors wrote.

Pointing to Minow’s actions on changing the seal and to her own scholarship on race, they argue the dean deserves more credit.

“We are proud of the goals of Reclaim Harvard Law School and of the student activism spurring Harvard Law to become a better place. But we are also very proud of our Dean, her work on behalf of the entire law school community, including her thoughtful and good faith efforts to respond to the important issues Reclaim has raised,” they wrote. “We respectfully submit that the members of Reclaim Harvard Law School and the students who support them should be so as well.”

Minow, members of Reclaim Harvard Law, and several faculty signatories of the open letter declined to comment

—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.

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