Dean Minow: Please restore order at our law school

We write on behalf of the silent majority of Harvard Law School students who are repelled by the November 19 “hate crime” hoax, and who do not wish to continue being subjected to disorder caused by the relative handful of racialist activists at this school who are bent on compelling others to pay attention to their agenda.

We do not object to these activists expressing their views on their own time, in conformance with school rules, and while adhering to basic norms of civility. The law school, and Harvard generally, afford ample opportunities for such expression.

We do object to these activists disrupting class time, violating school rules on how visual messages can be conveyed, and seeking to disrupt community meetings meant to allow individuals in the community — not just hard-core activists with an axe to grind, who were never elected by the student body to represent students’ views — an opportunity to express their individual views.

Here are three constructive suggestions for how to restore order at the law school and thereby ensure that the vast majority of law students who do not agree with the aims and tactics of these hard-core activists are not treated as second-class students, subject to the whims of a radical fringe that is currently being allowed to do largely as it pleases.

1. BAN BROWNSHIRT TACTICS AT COMMUNITY MEETINGS

Unless you act quickly, and decisively, there is a distinct possibility that tomorrow’s noon meeting, which you have scheduled to allow members of the entire Harvard Law School community to express their individual views concerning the “hate crime” that allegedly occurred on November 19, and related issues, will be hijacked by an ad hoc group of racialist activists, comprising less than 5% of the student body.

You should anticipate that these students will march into the meeting wearing uniformly colored clothes and will seek to disrupt the meeting in order to press their own demands — shouting out political slogans in unison, shouting down their opponents, and generally doing their best to monopolize the meeting and prevent others (including you) from speaking.

If such tactics sound familiar, it’s because they are time-tested tactics for winning political fights through bullying. They were the tactics used by the SA (Sturmabteilung or Storm Detachment), better known as the Brownshirts or Storm Troopers, in Nazi Germany during Hitler’s rise to power.

hitler-brownshirts

In the early years of the Nazi party, the Brownshirts were the ruffians and bullies who delighted in disrupting the meetings of political opponents.

Such tactics have no place at Harvard Law School. They are incompatible with Harvard’s “University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities,” which among other things requires students to show “respect for the dignity of others,” including respect for “the rights of its members to . . . convene and conduct public meetings,” such as the public meeting that you have scheduled for tomorrow. (See also Harvard Law School Community Principles.)

The University-Wide Statement, of course, recognizes the right of the racialist activists to express their own views, but not by disrupting meetings called by others (they must “publicly demonstrate and picket in an orderly fashion”). If these agitators wish to express their own views as a group, they are free to call their own meeting and invite interested members of the community to attend.

We respectfully suggest the following tactics to minimize the risk that Brownshirt tactics will be attempted, or will be successful, in disrupting tomorrow’s community meeting and future community meetings:

a. No electronic devices.

Without photos and videos, agitators have great difficulty leveraging their antics in a closed meeting to convey to the outside world the sense of crisis they are seeking to manufacture. Every single individual in a community meeting should feel free to speak without fear that he or she is being videoed, photographed, or being tweeted about. Therefore the law school should impose for this, and all other community meetings, the same rule that applied when Justice Kagan visited in September: “A Harvard ID will be required for admission to the lecture and no backpacks,laptops, recording devices, cameras, food, or drink will be allowed in the room.”

Realistically, of course, many people may have their smartphones stowed away in their pockets; we are not suggesting that intrusive searches are required before community members are admitted to the room. But this rule will ensure that if a student attempts to video or photograph anything occurring during the community meeting, the student’s device could be confiscated, and the student could face possible discipline.

Assuming that an official video of the event will be made for viewing in the overflow room , we recommend that the video be saved, in case it is helpful as evidence in any later student disciplinary proceeding (in the event a student uses an electronic device, or Brownshirt tactics are employed that might trigger disciplinary charges).

b. Students must take turns speaking at the microphones, for brief periods of time.

The purpose of the meeting is to allow individual students to express their views, and to pose questions for further thought. Therefore students should be required to speak individually, at a microphone, for brief periods of time (we suggest no longer than two minutes). Students should be admonished that they are not allowed to shout from wherever they happen to be sitting, and that the only demonstrations of support that will be permitted will be brief applause.

c. Only leaders of officially recognized student organizations should be recognized.

To allow as many diverse perspectives as possible, at most one leader from an officially recognized student organization should be allowed to speak on behalf of that organization, with the head of the student government allowed to speak first.

No one affiliated with the ad hoc group of racialist activists which is currently agitating on campus should recognized as having any legitimate leadership role.

In particular, under no circumstances should a purported leader of an ad hoc group of students be recognized for the purpose of presenting the gruop’s “demands.” Any such attempt should lead to that student’s microphone being cut off.

If an ad hoc group of students has a list of “demands,” the students can write them up and send an e-mail to the relevant parties, and can post them on a website or blog for anyone else who may be interested in reading them. An ad hoc group of students should not be permitted to use Brownshirt tactics to seize control of a community meeting as a platform for presenting their “demands.”

By denying any recognition, or special attention toward, students who group together in an ad hoc fashion to disrupt the lives of other students, the law school will reduce the incentive to engage in such unruly behavior, and will encourage such agitators to seek and obtain official recognition as a student organization.

d. If these rules are violated.

Any student seeking to violate these rules for conducting an orderly and civilized community meeting should be ejected from the meeting and reported for possible discipline. It should be announced at the start that if the meeting becomes unruly due to coordinated group action, it will be terminated and not rescheduled.

2. DO NOT PERMIT STUDENTS TO DISRUPT CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION

We regard as anathema to any institution of higher education what you and Professor Randall Kennedy (and other professors who we will not name) reportedly allowed to happen on November 19, in the hours after what we call “Tape-Gate” (an obvious “hate crime” hoax) came to students’ attention. At the start of class, students pressured both you and Professor Kennedy to set aside that day’s course material to discuss the incident (students in your class, reportedly, went as far as to stage a mini-protest, demanding that you address the incident).

Both you and Professor Kennedy reportedly pushed back, but eventually you both permitted the students to decide by majority vote whether they wished to set aside the class material, and discuss the incident, which they voted to do (with white and asian students obviously under pressure to vote yes, to avoid being tagged as racist). Substantial time was then spent in each class discussing the incident.

The racialist activists in each class who successfully pressured you and Professor Kennedy, and their fellow students, to set aside normal instruction, thereby denying their fellow students for that classroom session the educational opportunities that they expected to obtain by attending this law school, thereby violated Harvard’s “University-Wide Statement on Rights and Responsibilities,” which among other things ensures “that all members of the University are able to carry out their normal duties and activities . . . without interference or constraint by others.” (2002 Statement of the President and Deans).

Such an episode should never be permitted to happen again. Students should be put on notice that although they are free to speak with professors and other instructors, and their fellow students, after class concerning events or issues not related to the class, they may not raise such matters during class time, and every minute of class time must remain under the control of the professor or other instructor.

3. ENFORCE THE TIME-PLACE-AND-MANNER RULES GOVERNING FIXED VISUAL EXPRESSION.

The current crisis at the law school is directly traceable to your administration’s deliberate decision not to enforce the law school’s very strict rules governing fixed visual expression by students.

Under the law school’s rules, students may post written material for viewing by other students in only two locations: (1) on various bulletin boards, liberally distributed throughout the classroom buildings, student center, and tunnels; and (2) on certain chalkboards in the classrooms.

And not just any student can use the bulletin boards or chalkboards. Only students affiliated with “officially recognized student organizations and journals” may use them, and they must note the affiliation.

And law school rules flatly prohibit students from posting any fixed visual expression anywhere else: “Materials may not be posted on doors, walls, glass, wood, tile, metal, or painted surfaces.” Moreover, in Wasserstein Hall’s seven large classrooms, only the side chalkboards (not the main chalkboards in front) may be used by students.

And just to cover all bases, and reinforce that the bulletin board and the chalkboards are the only place where fixed visual messages can be displayed, the rules also say that students may not “mark sidewalks, walls, or any other surface.”

Last fall, “Black Lives Matter” activists blatantly violated these rules by defacing the portraits of many of the professors lining the first floor of Wasserstein Hall, by taping up papers with protest messages on them.

hls_blacklives

This was a double violation of the rules: (1) the “Black Lives Matters” activists had not gone through the steps need for recognition as an officially recognized student group (no official group was listed on the papers posted); and (2) the papers were posted on the “walls,” and on “glass,” which is explicitly prohibited by the rules.

Yet you condoned the rule violation. At a community meeting, you specifically assured the activists that the papers would not be taken down. And they remained up for many days. Of course, only the racialist activists who had unilaterally violated the rules, and dared you to enforce them, were granted this dispensation. You didn’t invite anyone who might want to post “Blue Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter” messages on the portraits to feel free to do so.

It is therefore not surprising that, as earlier recounted on this blog, on the evening of November 18 the “Royall Must Fall” activists felt perfectly free to mark over the Harvard Law School shields in Wasserstein Hall (on the wall, and on the door mat) with black tape, another clear violation of the rules.

And whether or not it was the “Royall Must Fall” activists who placed black tape on the portraits of some of the black professors (as we have argued is 99.99% certain), as a hoax , it appears clear that some student placed the black tape on the portraits in an effort to convey some message, although the intended meaning is up for grabs, as Prof. Randall Kennedy has noted. But why should it be a surprise that a student felt free to place material on the portraits, in an effort to grab attention and convey some sort of message? Sure, that was a violation of law school rules, but students did exactly that last year, and you explicitly condoned it.

It seems clear that unless and until the time-place-and-manner rules governing fixed visual expression are enforced, ideally through the announcement of a zero-tolerance policy, students who feel privileged to violate the rules in an effort to promote their pet causes will continue doing so (at least if their pet causes are deemed politically correct).

For example, starting on November 19, dozens of students stuck messages on the portraits of all the black professors, messages that today remain on the portraits, evidencing hundreds of violations of the rules.

And on November 20, in clear violation of the chalking policy, the following message was written on the front chalkboards of all seven large classrooms in Wasserstein Hall, apparently as a direct action by black racialist activists, asserting that they have not been respected by whites and asians at the law school (thus implying that whites and asians at the law school are racist):

I will write love on these walls

I will share respect in these halls

I am also Harvard

Arguably this was hate speech, authored by black students and directed at white and asian students. Certainly the message’s implication offended some white and asian students. Yet because the administration is not enforcing school rules regarding the location of fixed visual messages, this message was not promptly erased, so that offended students were forced to view the message throughout the day.

It is time for the administration to stop condoning violations of the rules by a few favored students. The hundreds of messages currently stuck to various professors’ portraits should all come down. A zero-tolerance policy should be announced, under which building workers will scan the walls and floors of the buildings and classrooms when the buildings open each day, before students arrive, and remove any material that violates the rules.

Every law school employee, including professors, should be instructed to remove any material noticed during that day that violates the rules. Students violating the rules should be referred for possible disciplinary proceedings, without exception, and particularly without regard to the content of the messages involved. By displaying a firm hand on this matter, you will remove any incentive for anyone to do what the “Royall Must Fall” protesters, and anyone else involved in the chain of events that led to black tape being placed on the portraits, did.

Had this zero-tolerance policy been in effect, no one would have put up the black tape in an effort to get attention, because there would have been no attention, and thus no incentive to put up the tape. The tape would have been discovered by 7 a.m., and removed before any students arrived. So it seems fair to conclude that by condoning blatant violations of the rules, and failing to ensure that material violating the rules is promptly removed, your administration brought about the present crisis. Immediate action on this front is needed.

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12 thoughts on “Dean Minow: Please restore order at our law school

  1. I’m blown away by this. This statement does not and cannot come from a place of love and respect for all. I just don’t understand what motivates the need to so vehemently oppose a movement aimed at educating and empowering.

    Look, I’m a white male who grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in America. My life has been adorned with more privilege than almost all other demographics in this country and I the world at large. I know this. I’ve benefited tremendously by the simple privilege bestowed upon me by my chance of birth. I see this both in the circumstances of my own life and in the circumstances of others born into marginalized groups. Seeing this dichotomy underscores, in my mind, how important it is to address this privilege so that it no longer is a privilege for the few, but a right for all.

    That won’t happen without proactive intervention. The most insidious part of institutional racism is that it continues to thrive in an environment where nothing is done. That’s why it’s institutional. It’s built into our society. I don’t have to do anything overtly racist to benefit from it. All I have to be is white. Or a man. Or heterosexual. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life—there’s a reason I didn’t come to law school until I was in my 30s, it takes time to screw up—and I can promise you this: I would not be at Harvard Law School were it not for the privilege I have experienced as a white man. I don’t say this to mean that Harvard has somehow consciously or unconsciously admitted me because of my race; rather, I mean that I have been the beneficiary of significant societal forgiveness of my wrongs because of my race. I very much doubt a black person would have been given the number of second (third and fourth) chances I have been given. Where society gives me the benefit of the doubt, it assumes the worst of them.

    Given this, how can I claim any right to the privilege I’ve experienced? How can I argue against others who seek the same privilege I have? I can’t. I’ve done nothing to earn it other than be born. In fact, those who are seeking the privilege I’ve lived with have done far more to earn it than I have. They seek it. They fight for it. I’ve done nothing. And that’s the problem. I’ve done nothing. I’m sorry for that. I need to do more.

    Whomever is behind the Royall Asses blog posts or who supports them, I am left wondering what specifically you are fighting so vehemently to maintain. There is a demographic at this school who feels they are subject to explicit and implicit discrimination. The school has responded to these concerns by giving them an opportunity to air their concerns and experiences. Furthermore, the school is taking steps to investigate possible opportunities to address these concerns. How is this threatening to you? I would encourage you to step back and really think hard about how this movement is actually impacting you. A lot of time is spent outlining rules violations and missed class time, but how significant is this impact on your life? As I said, I’m a white male, and I’m hard-pressed to identify any specific negative impact this movement has had on me.

    So people posted pictures of quotes on professors’ portraits last year and notes of encouragement this year. How does that impact you? No class or group of professors were singled out in a negative manner. What’s the threat you’re so worried about?
    So two classes diverted their attention to the placing of black tape over the faces of professors. So you missed an hour or two on instruction to engage in a conversation with your peers about a pressing current event, while being moderated by two professors renowned for scholarly work in the area of law and inequality. That’s a tremendous opportunity to learn from several incredible minds. What’s the threat you’re so worried about?

    In closing I say this: I support the “racialist activists” and their efforts with all my heart. I do so with hopes that my three children will grow up in a world that rejects white privilege in favor of equality and harmony. I do so recognizing that I have no right to the privilege I have experienced. I do so out of love and compassion. I do so out of hope. I encourage you to do so, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I support the Royall Asses blog (not the Royall Asses!) because they have a fundamental belief that orderly, impartial application of rules and laws is a foundation for a just, orderly society. Demanding that most of us obey the rules while allowing members of a militant minority to flout them is the definition of privilege.
      You say you are privileged. No, you are simply fortunate, but only up to a point because your presumably easy life has done nothing to sharpen your reasoning powers.
      BTW, if you think the Royall Asses themselves and their allies are working for “equality and harmony,” then you have your head inextricably wedged into something other than a “place of love and respect for all.” The Royall Asses presume a privilege to break the rules in order to foment discord and antagonism. It looks like Dean Minow will do nothing to disabuse them of that presumption.

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      1. I am all for respect and orderly discourse and respect. I agree that, in most respects, the orderly and impartial application of rules and laws is a foundation for a just society. I would note, however, that a rule is not impartial simply because it is a rule. Rules and laws are the product of people and are prone to reflect the biases of their creators. Rules are often designed to preserve the status quo in the name of order; however, if the status quo reflects a society still grappling with inequality, then the rules that preserve the status quo also serve to preserve that inequality. What, then, are those who are disadvantaged by this codified, unequal, status quo? Sometimes the right answer is to challenge them. To push back. To call attention to a system that is perceived as unfair.

        I might be more concerned if I felt that whatever violations have occurred have actually harmed or threatened anyone. Much is made in the blog post above about alleged procedural violations, but nowhere in the statement are these violations linked to any actual harm or threat to the author—or anyone else for that matter. So there have been procedural violations. What are the separate concrete interests these violations are impacting? I ask again, what is the threat?

        Disorder? I haven’t seen it. I spent the entire day studying in the fireside lounge and watched the Reclaim Harvard group peaceably invite people to come talk to them. They put posters on the walls—a potential violation—but it was not disruptive. There was no shouting. There was no chanting. No. I saw smiles. I saw hugs. I saw a community coming together and reaching out, not militantly, but confidently and respectfully. I cannot imagine any person feeling threatened by their actions today.

        In fact, you are the only person who’s treated me with any level of disrespect. You anonymously jab at my reasoning powers and imply that my head is “inextricably wedged into something other than a ‘place of love and respect for all.’” Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe my reasoning is flawed. I make no claims to perfection or to having all the right answers. I don’t mean to present myself as special or unique. I am just human, like you or any other. What I know, though, is that when I go to sleep tonight I will feel no regret for the stand I’ve taken or the support I’ve given. I did so with the firm conviction that it was right for me to do so. I did so with the firm conviction that it was necessary for me to do so. I can do no more than to follow what I know and believe to be right.

        So there you have it. Maybe my reasoning is wrong. Maybe I’ve said what I feel unconvincingly or ineffectively. That doesn’t change what I feel, though, and I’m not afraid to expose that belief or feeling to the world.

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    2. This is such self-serving hogwash. Your abasing apology for your “white privelege” is in fact a way to preen and put yourself above us all. Plenty of whites have less privelege and plenty of blacks have more than you. In this age and nation we are all vastly more priveleged than we have any right to. ALL OF US. Your only duty is to be thankful. Are you?

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    3. You are indeed a person of privilege as your whole screed speaks only of the negligible impact of the ‘crush white males’ movement has on you. Meanwhile, in both Europe and the US the group declining the most is White males. Highest rate of suicide. Largest decline in academic achievement in just one generation while other groups (particularly White females) show moderate to large improvements in academic achievement.
      You in fact demonstrate your complete disconnect from anything outside your sphere by making the assumption that ALL White males enjoy the same privileged life that you have. It is grossly patronizing to make ANY assumption that ALL people of an ethnic group share all characteristics. That holds for ANY large group of people. That you think that people who have far less privilege than ANY Harvard Law student deserve to be sacrificed on the alter of your faith is quite simply disgusting, and an indictment of YOUR character.

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  2. Please do not speak on behalf of the Asian American community and use us as a tool to stifle the conversation about race on campus. How dare you suggest that this movement for safer and more inclusive campuses somehow alienates and offends all Asian American students.

    My community was shut out of this country for decades under a series of explicitly race-based legislation starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

    My community was criminalized under anti-opium laws and arrested while the biggest users of opium (white, middle-class, suburban housewives) remained untouched.

    My community has been the victim of hate crimes where assailants get off scotch-free. RIP Vincent Chin.

    My community continues to be regarded as perpetual foreigners in this land we call home. We were reminded of this when the government put us in internment camps during WWII and we continue to be reminded of this as we see the careers of Asian American scientists derailed by baseless espionage charges.

    My community will not sit here and stay silent because you want us to be the “model minority” and not rock the boat while you try to silence our Brothers and Sisters in other communities of color.

    My community also stands for love on these walls, respect in these halls and we are also Harvard.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The killers of Vincent Chin did not get off scot-free. They were initially given fines and 3 years of probation by Judge Charles Kaufman in Wayne County Circuit Court, but that was not the end of their legal troubles. I think the racial angle is over-emphasized. Kaufman gave out a lot of light sentences.

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  3. A few people at today’s community meeting loudly denounced the vicious blog that HLS students created to anonymously shame other students. Of course, the speakers were referring to Royall Asses, not Socratic Shortcomings, but that irony wasn’t lost on everyone.

    I see from these new posts that the creators of Royall Asses are still interested in resisting the tide of top-down “solutions” to unintentional peer-to-peer microaggressions and dividing our community along racial lines in the name of solidarity and inclusiveness. I suggest a side project for you: “Socratic Shortcomings’ Shortcomings.” I think your blog has shown that people are interested in seeing more than student agitators’ one-sided sky-is-falling narrative. Socratic Shortcomings’ Shortcomings could create a safe space for thoughtful dissent and responses to some of the outrageous stuff activists put out there like Socratic Shortcomings’ slanderous posts, since they rarely publish responses that are submitted. I have heard first-hand of people trolling SS with made up stories. I have also seen two of the events described on SS in person and neither played out the way they were described, and both posts caused division and pain in my classes for misrepresenting what happened in a public forum without anyone talking to the alleged oppressor one-on-one. What do you think?

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  4. This blog is a disgrace. Maybe the tape was a hoax, maybe it wasn’t. But your needless vitriol has undermined any legitimate message you may have had. Direct personal attacks based purely on conjecture are wildly unnecessary and do not serve the purpose of this blog, which I assumed was bringing to light an alternative interpretation of what occurred the morning of the 19th. Or maybe that wasn’t the purpose of this blog. Maybe the purpose of this blog was actually to trash four young men and women who are willing to put a face on what they believe in, unlike the cowards who wrote this drivel. It’s a shame, too, because you may have had a point.

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  5. The post’s suggestions for meeting procedures are quite sensible. They’re in the spirit of Robert’s Rules, which are designed to let quiet people have a chance to be heard. They are close to procedures I’ve recently seen used at two long meetings, on starting a charter school and on a city resolution in support of Planned Parenthood, both of which featured extremely emotional public comment from two sides without invective, intimidation, or disrespect. Harvard students should learn these procedures if they want to be good citizens of their local governments. One very useful thing the Bloomington, Indiana city council does is project a 3-minute countdown on the wall so the speaker and audience know how much time is left.

    What procedures were actually used at the Friday meeting?

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  6. A plea asking for decorum and respectful dialogue at the proper time and place and rejection of mob rule denounced by the thugs?

    Color me unsurprised.

    Regards,

    A mixed-race defender of free speech and color-blind society.

    Like

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