Letter to the Editor: Faculty members unfairly dismiss Reclaim HLS

On March 21, the Record published an open letter from seven faculty members attacking Reclaim Harvard Law School for unreasonably criticizing HLS Dean Martha MinowBelow is a response to that letter.

I find it troubling that a group of faculty would endorse a letter filled with the very errors they spend so much time encouraging students to correct. We are taught not to make unsubstantiated claims, but instead to connect claims with evidence, and to demonstrate logically how the evidence supports our conclusion.

Yet the faculty members who wrote the open letter in the Record simply asserted — despite substantial evidence to the contrary, including a recent article that appeared in the very pages of the Record — the following claims:

[M]uch 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. . . . 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.”

How could a reader of their letter fairly assess the merits of their argument without being presented with any supportive evidence? What particular criticisms of Dean Minow, a reader must naturally wonder, do they have in mind? For example, is it true — as the letter states multiple times — that members of Reclaim are failing to acknowledge the “enormous contributions” of Dean Minow’s work prior to her role as Dean? Which criticisms, exactly, do they find “exaggerated and unfair”? When and where has Reclaim leveled these criticisms?

Having presented no specific evidence to assess, the letter amounts to empty rhetoric, and so ends up undercutting the authors’ call for Reclaim to be “thoughtful about the charges that they make, and the language with which they make them.” Now, in the end, it’s possible there is something to what these faculty members are saying; I think this is a subject where people can look at the same set of facts and arrive at different conclusions. That might make for a constructive conversation. But implying that student activists at HLS are unreasonable without providing any support serves only to create more division.

Especially when there is direct evidence to the contrary. Less than three weeks ago, Reclaim member AJ Clayborne addressed head-on the tension between student criticism of Minow’s actions as Dean and her extensive scholarship of racial justice advocacy — i.e., the very issue these professors raised. In his op-ed, Clayborne opens by anticipating the letter writers’ concerns: “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. Yet we did not protest in ignorance. Indeed, we protested precisely because we are intimately acquainted with her work.” He then goes on to quote writings by Minow and discusses how these writings conflict with various positions she has taken as Dean.

Clayborne is clearly not “ignor[ing] Dean Minow’s long history of championing issues” that Reclaim has addressed, so why didn’t the faculty respond to Clayborne’s criticisms of Dean Minow directly? Perhaps one answer is that if these faculty members critically engaged with the points made by student protesters, it would be far more difficult to depict the story with such a broad brush.

Yes, Dean Minow has devoted much of her career to issues of racial justice. It costs us little to remind each other of that. But it also gets us little in return. What we need is to take a hard look at why so many students — and particularly students of color — have taken issue with how Dean Minow has responded to racial discord on campus. These conversations will cost us time and energy and will require us to confront uncomfortable truths about our community and our broader society. Dean Minow’s advocacy and scholarship can form part of the background for these efforts, but they alone cannot move us forward.

Isaac Cameron is a 2L. He is a member of Reclaim HLS, but the views expressed here are his alone and do not represent the views of Reclaim HLS or of the 
Harvard Law Record.

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