The 2015-2016 saw Harvard Law School embroiled in some challenging debates over race and diversity. In the fall, portraits of tenured black faculty members in the main building were defaced with black tape, and in the spring semester an organization of students and faculty called Royall Must Fall led a movement to change the Harvard Law School crest, which had its origins in slavery.
With brainstorming for a new insignia underway, Law School Dean Martha L. Minow has also launched a new lecture series called “Diversity and U.S. Legal History.” The 10- week series, which began September 14, combines the efforts of the administration with those of various faculty members, including Professor Mark Tushnet who leads a reading group at the law school that bears the same title. Tushnet, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, has long made civil rights a thematic focus of his courses at Georgetown and Harvard Law Schools.
The proposed lecturers come from diverse ideological backgrounds. Randall L. Kennedy, for example, published an oped in the New York Times last November that elicited the ire of many campus activists for its unsympathetic tone. Noting as “disturbing” certain students “tendency to indulge in self-diminishment by displaying an excessive vulnerability to perceived and actual slights and insults,” Kennedy cast aspersions on the “rhetoric of trauma” invoked by some of the school’s activists.
Kenneth W. Mack, a classmate of President Barack Obama’s in their time at HLS, will also speak. Mack has taught Critical Race Theory, among other courses, at Harvard these past few years. Michael Klarman, a constitutional professor particularly well-received throughout the student body, will also speak, likely drawing on concepts and context expressed in his book “From Jim Crow to Civil Rights.”
Harvard, both as a university and a law school, has had a lengthy and challenging history with race and diversity – it’ll be interesting to see how this series advances the conversation in the next few months.