By Elizabeth A. Brown, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
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 facade, 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. …