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Leaked email: Harvard race protesters ignored liberal icon’s advice to tone down rhetoric, tactics

It was recently revealed by the blog Royall Asses that Harvard’s race protesters were supported by numerous members of the Law School faculty.

However, one of that faculty troupe, and a rather progressive one at that, had urged the activists to tone down their radical rhetoric and tactics.

In an email obtained by Royall Asses, Professor Laurence Tribe had attempted to convince members of Reclaim Harvard Law that Law School faculty and administrators “genuinely want[ed] to understand students’ concerns and to work closely with students to make concrete progress . . . .”

Tribe, as you may know (“unless [you]’ve been living in a cave for the past several decades,” says Royall Asses), rose from humble roots to become Harvard Law School’s most famous professor — indeed, probably the most famous law professor in the world.”

He’s perhaps best known for leading the crusade against the US Supreme Court confirmation of Robert Bork, a cause for which he paid: US Senate conservatives would prevent him from ever holding a federal office that required the body’s affirmation.

Although Tribe was unable to attend the meetings with activists for which many of his colleagues showed up, he sent an email expressing his thoughts on the group’s methods:

I’m not only sympathetic with but am passionately committed to the goals of inclusion, diversity, and racial and gender justice both at HLS and throughout the country. I agree broadly with many of the points minority students have been making in recent weeks and months, just as I agreed some years ago with points that my friend and colleague, the late Derek Bell, was making before he resigned from our faculty to protest the absence of any tenured woman of color and of more faculty with a “critical” perspective. But, just as I urged Derek to stay rather than to leave, and just as I continue to believe that the progress we have made since would actually have come sooner and been deeper had Professor Bell pursued a different path, I find myself disagreeing with some of the tactics that I see as driving the current movement, and I don’t want my absence this evening to paper over that disagreement.

RELATED: Notes reveal: Harvard Law professors worked closely with campus race protesters

I thought there was considerable wisdom in the NYT op‐ed by Professor Randy Kennedy -– an op‐ed I realize some faculty and many students saw as unwelcome by virtue of very “balance” that others appreciated. I know that “balance” and “objectivity” can at times be illusions and that inaction is a form of action. Maybe that’s why I found myself in sync with much of what Professor Jon Hanson said in his counter to that op‐ed. I bristled at what I read as Jon’s accusatory tone toward Randy and toward Martha Minow, but I agreed completely with what Jon had to say about implicit racism, racism that is more often structural and systemic these days than overt and easily perceived by all. I very much share Jon’s sense that systemic racism, like systemic sexism, are especially difficult to identify and redress, and that we all need to listen more closely and observe more acutely if we’re to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Indeed, Tribe goes on to chastise the activists for “fail[ing] to recognize [Harvard Law School] Dean Minow as the best ally your cause could possibly hope for at this school.” The protesters had traveled to Brandeis University back in February to interrupt a ceremony honoring the dean.

“Finally, I can’t help being troubled by the fact that the invitation you sent yesterday seems to have gone only to a select group of ‘professors who [you] trust, whose opinions [you] value, and who [you] believe share [your] ultimate goals,’” the professor continues.

“Someone can share the ends you seek even while being seriously troubled, as I am, by what looks like a failure – I’d even call it a systemic failure – to deal constructively […] with the challenges we face as a justice‐seeking and truth‐seeking community.”

Read the full Royall Asses post.

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About the Author
Assistant Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 15 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.

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