More minority teachers at Harvard Law School, black students demand

An street demonstration will take place Jan. 4 on the staid campus of the Harvard University Law School if an angry group of black law students has its way.

''We want more tenured blacks and females on the Harvard Law School faculty, '' contends Muhammad Kenyatta, a 38-year-old former college professor now a second-year law school student and president of the Black Law Students Association.

Joined by the campus Third World Coalition, black law students threaten to hit the streets after the Christmas break to protest the opening session of a class, Racial Discrimination and Civil Rights, to be taught by two of the nation's leading civil-rights attorneys, Julius L. Chambers, black, of Charlotte , N.C., and Jack Greenberg, white, of New York City.

''We are asking students to boycott this class,'' Mr. Kenyatta says. He says he's taking this stand although Dean James Vorenberg says one minority person has been hired, and the law school faculty voted Dec. 15 a three-point resolution:

* Legal education and scholarship on campus are ''served best'' by a faculty with ''a variety of perspectives'' toward the nation's legal institutions.

* Minority members and females ''historically have been, and still continue to be, too few'' at the Harvard Law School and ''law schools in general.''

* Special and ''extended efforts'' will be made to add minority people and women who show promise of ''excellence in law teaching and legal scholarship'' to the Harvard faculty.

The faculty approved a Dec. 1 report from its appointments committee recommending strong affirmative action to ''seek out faculty prospects among minorities and women'' until the faculty votes that ''there no longer exists a significant problem.

''We have one new minority person committed to our faculty next fall (1983-84 school year), and we are negotiating with a second person,'' said Dean Vorenberg in an interview after the winter break began.

His office has sent each law student a letter that includes the faculty's resolution and commitment, the dean said. He made no comments on the threatened boycott of the civil-rights class.

The ''go signal'' is still on for the coalition to picket and boycott the civil-rights class, says Kenyatta, who taught sociology and conducted an experimental program at Haverford College before enrolling in law school.

In addition to the street protest, the Third World Coalition plans two activities after class begins, Kenyatta says. The coalition will conduct ''an affirmative action public forum'' on Jan. 5, with the law school faculty and students ''invited to participate.'' It will also sponsor a ''racism in the law'' noncredit course with ''black scholars'' from ''major'' law schools as instructors, beginning in February.

Calling the faculty resolution ''self-congratulatory for a job poorly done,'' Kenyatta says the students seek ''a rapid and substantial increase in the number of full-time minority and women faculty members.''

The dispute between the law school and the coalition has been brewing since September and has spilled beyond the campus into daily newspapers and the black press. Kenyatta originally denounced the appointment of Greenberg as a special teacher of the civil-rights class once taught regularly by a former black faculty member, Derrick Bell. Greenberg's appearance ''undercuts'' efforts to get Harvard to hire more minority people, Kenyatta added.

Greenberg and Chambers are officials of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a spinoff, but not a part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. An organization that has handled more civil-rights legal actions than any other group, the Legal Defense Fund also awards scores of scholarships to black and minority law students across the country. The fund hires a number of these students fund during summers and after graduation.

Harvard boasts an 11 percent black student enrollment, third only to two black law schools, Howard University and Texas Southern University, in total black enrollment. Among black faculty members who have leapfrogged from the law school to higher positions are Bell, now dean of the Oregon University Law School, and Harry Edwards, now a federal judge in the US Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

Kenyatta's supporters are upset because only two current law school faculty members - C. Clyde Ferguson, distinguished in international law and world diplomacy, and Christopher Edley, son of the director of the United Negro College Fund - are black. ''We'll believe the law school has hired a minority professor when we see a new one in the classroom,'' Kenyatta remarked.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.