Remove Demands that Infringe on Academic Freedom

To the Harvard Law School community, administration, and the “Reclaim Harvard Law School” movement:

Our community has undergone a difficult period of discussion and introspection concerning race and diversity at Harvard Law. In response, a group of over two hundred students and staff members have set out a series of demands to address these concerns.

We, the undersigned, believe that Harvard Law School must be an inclusive community. However, we cannot establish that community in an environment that chills academic freedom and marginalizes dissenting viewpoints. Unfortunately, several of the demands made by the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement would have that effect.

We call on the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement to kindly remove those demands that would infringe on academic freedom, and on the administration to resist any of those demands that persist. In particular, we call for the removal of the following demands:

I. Create a mandatory 1L course that addresses and contextualizes racial justice and inequality in the law, with respect to both historical issues and recent events. (The course must have a credit level that reflects its equal or greater importance to traditional 1L courses.)

We believe that this class would be taught in a highly partisan manner. Many of us have had troubling experiences in classes dealing with issues of race and inequality at Harvard Law. Oftentimes only one perspective is presented, and alternative viewpoints are silenced because of the stigma attached to expressing a dissenting view. Until and unless Harvard demonstrates that these classes can be taught in a manner that includes all perspectives, we oppose making such a class mandatory.

II. Include in 1L Orientation implicit bias/cultural competency training.

We believe that this training would be taught in a highly partisan fashion. For instance, training on microaggressions at the University of California system instructed participants to avoid statements such as “[e]veryone can succeed in society if they work hard enough” and “affirmative action is racist.” Such training suppresses alternative viewpoints and is antithetical to a free and open academic environment.

Additionally, we believe that this form of training is often counterproductive. It often leads students to avoid sensitive topics altogether out of fear of giving offense. It may exacerbate, rather than reduce, the difficulty of discussing sensitive topics on campus.

III. Give the Committee and/or the Office of Diversity and Inclusion…a full and equal seat at the table for all discussions and decisions on curricular changes.

Because the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion would be chosen by the Affinity Group Coalition, which has so far fully supported the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement, it would not represent the ideological diversity of the entire student body. Harvard Law School should not filter its academic curriculum through such a partisan committee. The result would be a hesitation to teach curricula whose ideologies conflict with those of the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement.

IV. Mandate external-organization-run diversity training programs for all professors that include (1) cultural competency and (2) models of effective contextualization.

We believe that this would be problematic for the same reasons listed in point II, above. This mandatory ideological training for professors would be antithetical to the notion of free and open academic discourse, and is an insult to the competence of the best law faculty in the country.

V. Amend student evaluations to account for implicit bias and include questions regarding whether professors contextualize material.

This demand encourages students to report on professors’ adherence to principles of political correctness. Such a report would have a chilling effect on academic freedom and make professors much less likely to explore the viewpoints of students with alternative opinions.

VI. Establish a mandatory program led by external facilitators to build better cultural competency among staff starting in the fall of 2016.

We do not believe that this training would be taught in an ideologically neutral fashion for the reasons listed in point II. As such, it would amount to mandatory ideological training. This would lead to further marginalization of staff whose views diverge significantly from those of the protestors.

VII. The initial student Committee on Diversity and Inclusion members will be selected by the Affinity Group Coalition.

We believe that the Affinity Group Coalition is ideologically one-sided. Any Committee on Diversity and Inclusion should reflect those values by including students from diverse ideological perspectives representing the entire student body. We believe that committee members chosen by the Affinity Group Coalition are unlikely to contain that ideological diversity. Additionally, we believe that any student committee should be chosen from the student body in a way that represents all students.

 

Harvard Law School must be inclusive for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or class. However, we cannot make progress in an echo chamber. Enforced ideologies will hinder, rather than advance, progress towards an inclusive environment. We respectfully ask that the Reclaim Harvard Law School movement amend their demands accordingly, and that the administration take this concern into account before making any decisions.

Editor’s Note:

In response to student feedback, we have decided to add the following paragraph:

We do not intend this letter to in any way diminish or dismiss the experiences of our peers, many of which have been painful. Instead, we take exception to the purported solutions that would limit academic freedom. We do not think that those steps would help in the fight against prejudice on campus. If anything, they would inhibit dialogue, making it even more difficult to confront the relevant issues.
If any of the previous signatories are uncomfortable with this language, they may email us and ask to remove their names from the list.

Please Note: Many students have privately expressed their opposition to the protesters’ demands, but are fearful of expressing their opinion publicly in our current campus environment. As such, we have chosen to give them the option of expressing their support anonymously. We will, however, ask that all signatories provide us with an HLS email to ensure that they are members of the Harvard community. All email addresses will be kept absolutely confidential. Click here to sign this letter.


 

Respectfully Yours,

  1. Anonymous 3L
  2. Bill Barlow
  3. James A. D’Cruz
  4. Craig Grounds
  5. John Wiest
  6. Anonymous Class of 2016
  7. Kurt Krieger
  8. Anonymous Class of 2018
  9. Anonymous JD Class of 2016
  10. Anonymous ’17
  11. Class of 2017
  12. Anonymous Class of 2016
  13. Anonymous 3L
  14. Anonymous Class of 2016
  15. Regretfully anonymous 2L
  16. Josh Browning
  17. Anonymous Class of 2016
  18. Anonymous Class of 2017
  19. Anonymous Class of 2018
  20. Anonymous Class of 2011
  21. Josh Craddock, ’18
  22. Very regretfully anonymous c/o 17 member
  23. Anonymous c/o 2017
  24. Kirk Jing
  25. Anonymous Class of 2017
  26. Anonymous Class of 2016
  27. Anonymous Class of 2016
  28. AnonymousLLM
  29. Stephen Hammer
  30. Anonymous Class of 2016
  31. Anonymous 1L
  32. Hudson Todd
  33. Anonymous Class of 2017
  34. Jonah Hecht
  35. Jake Sussman
  36. Noah Heinz ’18
  37. William Hyde
Advertisements
Remove Demands that Infringe on Academic Freedom

13 thoughts on “Remove Demands that Infringe on Academic Freedom

  1. silentnomorehls says:

    It is entirely unsurprising that soon after this open letter was distributed someone attempted to sign it as “U. R. Acist.” Just reinforces how correct we were to create a forum for discussing these issues without fear of misguided backlash.

    And c’mon, you can do better than that! At least realize that you could’ve used “Hugh” if you wanted us to think it was a real name. We expect better from HLS students.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. 2L says:

    I do think that it may have been very productive to have put a line in such as “we recognize that racism does exist in elements of our society, and while we don’t dispute the experiences of our peers, we think that the proposed reforms are counter-productive to our values” or something like that. I’m a 2L conflicted about signing for this reason and also because of the culture on campus referenced in the letter.

    Adding a line to that effect will increase your signatures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. silentnomorehls says:

      EDIT: As you can see, we’ve indeed taken your advice into account and added language to that effect. Thank you for your feedback.

      And in terms of the culture on campus, isn’t that even MORE of a reason to sign?

      Like

      1. Another 2L says:

        I agree with my fellow 2L. I would like to sign on, but I would just like it to be explicit that those who are signing are solely taking exception to the proposed solution and are not diminishing our peers’ experiences. Something explicit to that effect would make me more comfortable signing on.

        Like

  3. Anonymous Person says:

    Two quick questions:

    From reading the blog, it appears Bill Barlow set it up. Could you confirm that? Could you confirm that only Bill will have access to the e-mail account, and the names of people who e-mail and want to join anonymously? If there’s anyone besides Bill who would have access, I want to know that. I trust Bill not to disclose my name, but if anyone else has access to the names I start to doubt the names will be kept confidential.

    Also, so everyone can be sure this isn’t some sort of honeytrap to catch “haters,” Bill should post on Facebook to confirm that this blog is real, and something he’s set up.

    What’s with the “MINNOW” theme? Was that a preexisting theme, or something custom made for this project? Either way, it strikes me as juvenile to pick a theme that apparently pokes fun at our Dean.

    Like

    1. silentnomorehls says:

      Bill did set it up, with some help from me. I also have access to the non-anonymous email address information, but because I prefer to remain anonymous you’ll have to trust Bill’s word that he’s the one behind this (and to vouch for my trustworthiness). Bill is quoted in this Crimson article so maybe that’s enough for you. Otherwise, it’s Bill’s choice to publicly announce it on Facebook or elsewhere. [As a side point, I would like to commend Bill for his courage in speaking out. Because of the current campus climate, it’s tough to be the face of “opposition,” so to speak, in this context.]

      In terms of the Minnow theme – it’s a preexisting WordPress theme chosen as a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Dean Minow. We feel that she’s done nothing wrong in terms of how the school has been managed until now, and has been treated quite unfairly by the protesters.

      Like

    2. Yes, I am Bill Barlow and I can confirm that I set up the account. I’ve already shared the blog on facebook. In terms of access, I have access, as does Kip Krieger, a close friend that has worked on this project and signed on, and one other trusted friend “silentnomorehls” who wishes to remain anonymous. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me at my Harvard email, wbarlow@jd16 for any other questions or comments.

      Like

  4. Deferred c/o 2017 1L says:

    Being uncomfortable, being asked to be respectful in your commentary and asking people to be brave in voicing their opinions is in no way an infringement of free speech. Cultural competency training comes in all shapes and sizes. Mandatory courses on critical race studies exist in many of our peer institutions. By petitioning to prevent the conversations from happening before you even go through it, this petition is actually “chilling” campus free expression. Furthermore, why is it that you anonymous signatories are anonymous? How does that help to foster free dialogue? Why can’t you speak your opinions out in front of your Reclaim Harvard Law classmates? Are you scared of them? Are you scared that they’ll disagree with you, challenge your thoughts, push you to think about them critically and encapsulate your position? Aren’t those things simply what being a law student means?

    This is dismaying, to say the least, and I think sets a horrible example of the free discourse you’re feigning to defend.

    Like

    1. silentnomorehls says:

      Not to ignore the rest of the issues you bring up, but off the bat could you please elaborate on peer law schools with mandatory critical race instruction? I don’t know of any, but that’s certainly more out of ignorance than actually knowing anything about other schools’ curricula.

      And by the way, thank you for engaging with us! It is our sincere hope that this becomes a place where both sides can meet to discuss these issues with boldness, honesty and respect.

      Like

  5. Josh Craddock says:

    It’s unfortunate that the climate at Harvard Law School is so hostile to dissenting views that students feel they have to remain anonymous to support academic freedom. No student or signer of this statement should fear retributions or reprisals (from those purportedly promoting tolerance and diversity) simply for expressing their concerns.

    Like

    1. silentnomorehls says:

      Thanks for the support, Josh. Just to be clear, though, we don’t think so lowly of our fellow students that we fear any kind of overt retribution for disagreeing with them. We just fear the stigma of being labelled as racist simply for expressing our opinions (see my first comment on this post). It’s ideas like the contention that you either disagree with a specific (extreme) position or you’re upholding white supremacy that drive people into silence.

      Like

Join the Discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s