An Open Letter to the Harvard Law School Community

As members of the law faculty, we have all been proud of the activism, motivation and goals underlying Reclaim Harvard Law School. We fully support the University’s decision to retire the Law School’s Shield containing the Royall Crest, and acknowledge that this result would never have occurred were it not for the actions of Reclaim Harvard Law School and other individual students and groups who have pressed the school to face up to this part of its history.

But it is equally clear that the school would not have been able to achieve this important goal without the leadership of Dean Martha Minow. Which is why 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.

No one, of course, should be immune from criticism – particularly not the Dean and the faculty. And it is easy to see why, as the Law School’s formal leader, students would target the Dean with their criticism of the institution. But much of the criticism of the Dean has been exaggerated and unfair, failing to acknowledge the enormous contributions that Dean Minow has made in the past – and continues to make today – in furtherance of the very issues of social justice that motivate Reclaim Harvard Law School’s efforts. As the University’s decision on the shield amply demonstrates, there are good reasons and much value to a reasoned process of decision-making. Procedural justice and basic norms of fairness require allowing those who thoughtfully object to proposed decisions to express their views and have those views no less thoughtfully and respectfully considered. All of our thinking and reasoning are necessarily enriched as a result, making any final decision all the more enduring. Dean Minow’s decision to create a committee to undertake an inclusive and careful review of the shield was plainly correct and an important step in convincing the Harvard Corporation to make the change.

Nor is it fair or productive to ignore Dean Minow’s long history of championing issues like this throughout her distinguished career. It was precisely this record of commitment that led Brandeis University to confer upon Dean Minow one of its highest awards, in honor of her path-breaking scholarship on the legacy of desegregation in education and her efforts to promote international peace-building in divided nations. Dean Minow championed these causes long before they were popular – and long after people told her that being associated with such issues might jeopardize her professional career. And, as those of us who have served along side her for several decades can attest, since she has been in a position to do so, Dean Minow has done more to advance these issues than virtually any other Dean in the history of this law school, or any other. For those seeking to reclaim Harvard Law School’s history, disregarding this critical piece of it both unfairly denigrates Dean Minow’s accomplishments and ultimately disserves their cause.

We appreciate that Reclaim Harvard Law School includes a broad spectrum of voices in our community and no student organization can purport to speak for even those who support its mission, let alone for the entire law school community. But that makes it more not less important for those who support the ultimate goals of this movement to be thoughtful about the charges that they make, and the language with which they make them. As we stated at the outset, 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. We respectfully submit that the members of Reclaim Harvard Law School and the students who support them should be so as well.

We have not circulated this letter to our faculty colleagues beforehand in an effort to secure maximum number of signatures although we fully expect many share our view. Our goal here is not to mount a referendum by numbers but 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.

Glenn Cohen

Randall Kennedy

Richard Lazarus

Todd Rakoff

Carol Steiker

Kristen Stilt

David Wilkins

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