Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations

Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations

Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations

Yale Law School and the Sixties: Revolt and Reverberations


Kalman examines the crucial period of 1967-1970 at Yale Law School, when the mainstream liberal faculty was challenged by left-liberal students who aimed to unlock the democratic visions of law and social change they associated with Yale's legal realists of the 1930s. Law students during this phase of the school's history included Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Clarence Thomas.


New Haven, Saturday, April 26, 1969. Alumni Weekend. As Yale law students and graduates crowded into the law school auditorium to hear about “Concerns of the Yale Law Student Today,” the faculty surely fretted. The previous year, law students had walked out of a session entitled “Law and the Urban Crisis” on Alumni Weekend, designed to underscore the faculty's liberal good intentions. They complained the event featured white law school deans and staged their own counterpanel entitled “Law Is the Urban Crisis.” This year, the school was turning the podium over to student speakers. What would they say and do?

Plenty. Student Negotiating Committee members made the first presentation. Their proposal for “joint student-faculty rule” had caused consternation among professors all semester: they wanted to replace the faculty as governing body with a council comprised of elected student representatives and professors. Now, committee members inveighed against their teachers' “inertia and self-satisfaction.” Yale, they complained, was far from the “very progressive institution on the very frontiers of legal education” they expected, and their professors refused to make it “a real community.”

Then Judith Areen, later to become the first woman dean of Georgetown Law Center, took her turn. The popular professor Friedrich Kessler had called on her during virtually every class her first term—because she was a woman and focusing on her “was a way of capturing the class's attention.” She focused on “the serious underrepresentation of women in the Law School and in the profession.”

Black Law Students Union chair J. Otis Cochran and seven BLSU members followed. The previous December, they had forced the faculty to increase minority enrollments in a tense stand-off that some had feared would turn violent. Nevertheless, Cochran lamented that “the great liberal faculty of this great liberal institution could find no way to make black enrollment at Yale Law School more than a token.” On the same day that African American militants stood in front of Cornell's student union brandishing guns and wearing . . .

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