Summers draws fire from students


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With rumors abounding about possible final candidates in the search for a new Law School dean, the Law School Council hosted a town hall forum on Tuesday with University President Lawrence Summers. The forum was designed to permit students an opportunity to express their concerns and questions about Dean Clark’s replacement. Reflecting the diversity of interests among Harvard Law students, a wide range of opinions were offered concerning the direction the Law School should take in the new century, programs that should be strengthened, public interest resources and equality for all students.

Summers welcomed the assembled students and said he had been looking forward to the session. “This is a very important moment for the history of the Law School,” he continued. “As I work toward the selection of the new dean, it is important that I consult with as many individuals as possible.”

Summers also reiterated the purpose of the town hall forum: “My objective is to get a sense of student perspectives on the Law School…. I may respond to student comments but I’m here to listen.”

Students did not let the president down. Following their rally on the steps of Austin Hall [see related story below], a representative from Diversity in Education: Action Now! read the organization’s petition to Summers, calling for the appointment of a dean receptive to the current challenges posed by affirmative action’s legal status. After the petition, which has gathered over 250 signatures, was read, over half of the students present stood in solidarity.

A 2L student followed with his own concerns about the appointment of a dean whose political ideology could unfairly influence his or her decisions. “I’m a moderately conservative student and I feel the faculty here is pretty liberal and the student body is as well,” the student said. “I think we need a dean who is moderate and can see both sides.”

“I think that one crucial attribute of any dean of Harvard is that he or she has to be the dean of all students,” Summers responded, reaffirming his commitment to appoint a dean that will share and respect the diversity of ideas and backgrounds. “I think it is important we are a community that is open to all persons and all backgrounds.”

Summer also said no candidate would be dismissed because of political background. “I would also say that something that is going to be important to me . . . is selecting a dean who can maintain a high standard of scholarship” and thinking about the legal system here at HLS, the president continued. Summers emphasized maintaining “the highest possible standards in courses and all that is done at the Law School.”

One of the most interesting moments of the evening came with several comments about the Law School’s role in ensuring equality for gay students. “The dean failed to fight the Solomon Amendment,” one student commented, referring to the 1996 amendment that allows the Secretary of Defense to deny federal funding to institutions that prevent military recruitment on campus. “I feel the dean failed to represent all students… and that was a slap in the face because it told me Harvard did not care if I went on to find a successful law career,” he said. “I think Harvard University failed to protect all its students equally.”

But Summers attempted to deflect censure away from Dean Clark. “If there is a criticism to be made there it should be directed at me. I don’t think it is a question how I feel or how Dean Clark feels about the military’s policy, but if we would have made a different decision Harvard would have been denied $300-400 million…. Would you favor denying thousands of students financial aid [to oppose the Solomon Amendment] because Harvard University could not function without federal funding?”

After another student asked why the administration had not decided to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment, Summers inquired, “Is there a valid constitutional argument to the Solomon amendment? I would be very interested in finding out if there is a strong constitutional claim against the amendment.”

Three-L Lindsay Harrison, director of research projects for LAMBDA, said she had been conducting research with Prof. Dershowitz to challenge the amendment and requested a meeting with Summers and the general counsel to discuss the issue. Summers conceded he was not a constitutional scholar, but agreed that Harrison should meet with the University’s general counsel.

Other students raised concerns about the transparency of faculty appointments and concerns about political litmus tests during the selection process. La Alianza implored Summers to appoint a dean committed to finding a permanent Latino faculty member at the Law School.

One female student said HLS “must recruit more mothers,” and structure a curriculum that recognizes motherhood. It is my hope that Harvard Law School “takes the lead to truly valuing motherhood,” she said.

Another contentious issue among students was public interest. One student complained that tuition is so high that students leave HLS with a high amount of debt and find it difficult to refuse a firm job.

A 2L said that many students come to the Law School with hopes of working in a public interest field, but “by their 2L year vast numbers of students” plan on working for a firm. “Any law that is not corporate law… is not taken seriously” at this school, he said.

Summers attempted to alleviate many of the concerns raised. “A dean who can provide the leadership to make this institution as exciting as possible… is what will make this community the best.” Making this the best place for those who are concerned about the law is what will ensure the issues raised tonight are addressed, he said.

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