Harvard School of Law Sued
Lack of teachers from minorities is said to deprive students of a `variety of perspectives' needed for the `best possible' law education. NEW IMPETUS FOR CAMPUS RIGHTS
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — IF all seems quiet on the ivy-covered campus of Harvard Law School, that's only because it's holiday time. But behind the quiet fa,cade, a storm is brewing. Last month a group of students, calling themselves the Harvard Law School Coalition for Civil Rights, filed suit against prestigious Harvard College for failing to hire enough women and members of minorities to the faculty.
``We're suing Harvard on the grounds that a diverse education is not being offered at this school. Without a variety of teaching perspectives, students are not getting the best possible education,'' says Pat Gulbis, a second-year student who helped draft the 38-page complaint filed in Middlesex Superior Court.
In the case, the students charge that Harvard violates Massachusetts state law by excluding a disproportionate percentage of qualified women and minority candidates for tenured and tenure-track faculty positions.''
Instructors draw from their own life experiences when they stand in front of classes and present cases and arguments, say the students. Without teachers who are women, African Americans, Asian Americans, of Latin American origins, and physically disabled, they argue, students are not introduced to varying viewpoints of these minorities.
These views are needed, not only by minority students, but by whites who will be influential in structuring and defining the future of American justice, say the student activists.
``Teachers are really powerful in shaping what you're exposed to,'' says Lucy Koh, a first-year student. ``Too often professors don't think they should be spending valuable class time talking about social and historical perspectives of cases. So, the really important issues are never raised.''
For students who anticipate working in public-interest law, which often deals with minority concerns, the education is impractical. Asks student Laura Hankins, ``If we've learned everything in a vacuum, how can we practice?''
Harvard Law School Dean Robert Clark declined to talk about the pending lawsuit. But he describes Harvard's record in the area as strong. Over the past decade, he notes, 45 percent of all professors hired in tenure-track and tenured professorships have been women and minorities.
But no racial-minority women have been in tenure-track or tenured positions. Of the Law School's 66 faculty members, five are black, five are women, and the remaining 56 are white males. In contrast, of the 1,620 students in the Law School, 45 percent are women and 22 percent are members of racial minorities.
``It's a reflection of historical circumstance,'' says Stephen Bernardi, assistant dean of the law school. ``Many of these men were hired in the '30s and '40s, and they have tenure. You can't make them go away.'' (Tenured positions last for life, or until retirement.)
The disparity of minority faculty at universities is not limited to Harvard.
``The problem is acute across the country,'' says Dennis Archer, an attorney in Detroit who is chairman of the American Bar Association (ABA) commission on opportunities for minorities in the legal profession. ``There are a number of law schools without any minorities in tenure-track or tenured positions. Without these professors, there is no minority voice in the policy or the government of the law school.''
Last year, of more than 5,000 full-time professors at 174 accredited law schools in the United States, less than 9 percent were members of minorities. Women professors hold about 24 percent of law teaching spots. Twelve percent of all US law school students are minority members; 41 percent are women.
Mr. Archer says that without minorities and women in teaching positions, students suffer. ``Professors are role models, but they're also molders of minds in shaping the way students view the law or certain aspects of law. If you don't have the benefit a woman or minority can bring to bear in a discussion, then you're missing a total education.''
The problem of underrepresentation exists in other academic areas, too. Nationwide, in the physical and social sciences, women are half as likely to be tenured or on the tenure track as are men, and are paid much less, says Betty Vetter, executive director for the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology in Washington, D.C.
And the problem is self-perpetuating. If minority students miss out on mentors and role models, their chances of entering the teaching profession are further hampered. Mentors are crucial to making recommendations for teaching jobs.
``Professors tend to spend more time and work more closely with students who are like them. It's not a conscious thing, but unconsciously, people are more comfortable with others who are like them,'' says Emma Jordan, one of six black women tenured at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and president of the Association of American Law Schools.
TO combat this, Georgetown Law has followed the lead of the University of Wisconsin in Madison and Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., by instituting a fellowship program that grooms one candidate each year for a teaching career.
Although the Harvard suit is the first of its kind, Harvard is not alone in student dissatisfaction: Law school students at Yale, Stanford, University of California in Berkeley, and Columbia have been active.
``There is a constant pressure, appropriately so, to pay attention to diversity in hiring,'' says Paul Brest, dean of Stanford's Law School. ``I think it is extremely important to engage in affirmative action; the need for that is far from over.''
But of Stanford's 42 faculty members, only five are minority males, and six are white women. Explains Dean Brest: ``We have been engaged in a very broad-ranging search for minorities and women, ... but the pool simply is not as large for minorities ... as it is for white women and white men.''
That is because hiring qualifications discriminate subtly against minorities, says Georgetown's Ms. Jordan. To be considered for a teaching spot in a top law school, candidates should have graduated from a top-10 law school and in the top 10 percent of the class, have had an influential mentor (such as a US Supreme Court judge or a celebrated law professor), have edited a school's law review, and have published original work.
A nationwide survey conducted by Harvard Prof. Derrick Bell and University of Wisconsin's Richard Delgado in 1987 showed that a high percentage of minority professors found their working environment racist, their workload excessive, their relations with white colleagues and with students strained, and their involvement in civil rights frowned upon by university officials.