As Antioch School of Law sails through a sea of trouble, including a possible mutiny by its students and faculty, two controversial figures, Jean Camper-Cahn and Edgar Cahn, remain at the helm.
The school began as an idea that Jean Cahn, now codean of the school, told her husband, the school's other codean, after reaching across their bed to kick him awake, she said.
Seated in her office recently, with an orchid in her hair to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary, Jean Cahn said she and her husband had to fight to create the law school and they are fighting to keep it going.
Jean Cahn, a robyst, assertive woman and her husband, Edgar, the scholarly and demure son of philosopher Edmond Cahn, also fought for Antioch's predeccessor, the Urban Law Institute at George Washington University.
The school is now loceted in two former mansions in Northwest Washington. Its classrooms, law firm offices, and faculty offices are located in the Warder-Titten home, 2633 16th St. NW. Antioch's library is located in the Meyer home, a 40-room mansion overlooking downtown Washington. The house, which is located at 1624 Crescent P1. NW, was a gift of the Agnes and Eugene Meyer, the former chairman of the board of The Washington Post Co.
Jean Cahn became involved with the idea of Antioch when she was named director of the Urban Law Institute at George Wahington in 1968. Before going to the institute she had a multifaceted career as a lawyer that included representing former Harlem Rep. Adam Clayton Powell and making a study of the District government's responsiveness to its citizenry for the Institute for Political Services to Society.
As the first director of the institute Jean Cahn fought, protested and once resigned in her efforts to keep it open. Her doomsday theatrics got the institute funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity for one year and kept it going for two more, according to persons involved with the institute.
"She would use whatever she could get her hand on to win," said one lawyer her hand on to win." said one lawyer who worked with her at George Washington. "If you were white she called you a racist; if you were black she said you were standing in the way of progress. You had to agree with her or be branded ab establishment whore.
"She always came out of any dispute as the champion of civil rights," the lawyer said. "It was an obvious scheme but it worked - it still works - she got the money for the institute."
Jean Cahn said she does call people racists - but only if she believes they are racists. She added that such remarks do not benefit her because they leave individuals on the defensive and less willing to cooperate with her and her causes.
"If people say I sometimes call them racists they are right," she said. "If I see it (racism) crooping up I will say what I see is going on - I will say that a situation has racial overtones.
"When George Washington wanted to close the institute it was the clients who screamed racism," she said.
When a lack of OEO funding threatened to close the institute in 1969 the protests of its clients couldn't keep the institute open, however. Jean Cahn resigned before the institute's remaining money ran out her dramatic move turned OEO's decision not to fund the institute into a public controversy that ended when OEO granted the institute the funds within weeks.
In 1971 Jean Cahn made her protest felt all over Washington when George Washington decide that "under no circumstance will the university continue to sponsor a program engaged in the private practice of law.
She appealed to the Washington Urban League, the Black Caucus of the House of Representatives, consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Joseph Rauh, an activist Democrat.
At the same time she tried to protect the institute from a General Accounting Office sudit by damning the audit as "political." The audit did not uncover any evidence of wrongdoing by the school.
"We put up a fight," She said when asked about the trouble the institute faced in its early years. "Many other groups would have folded."
With the help of Rauh, who was on the Antioch College board of trustees, Jean Cahn got Antioch to approve the creation of a clinical law school in Washington. That saved the institute by making it an integral part of the school.
Controversy has continued to swirl around the Cahns, however since their victory.
Of 49 professors who have been on their faculty since the school opened 36 have left.
"The abilities of the Cahns as innovators was not matched by their talent for administration," wrote nine of the school's former faculty who attributed their resignations to the Cahns. They wrote the letter to Antioch's president William Birenbaum in 1976 during the Cahns' two week resignation.
The Cahns themselves resigned for two weeks last December during their battles with the faculty.
"The faculty . . . (thinks) it has exclusion jurisdiction in the matter of educational policy. We disagree," the Cahns wrote in their resignation letter to Antioch's Birenbaum.
"It (the resignation) was a charade," said John Sizemore, a member of the Antioch faculty. "They expected everyone to jump upand say they were sorry, please come back. No one did that."
Other faculty members have accused the Cahns using racial tactics to divide the faculty and students who have criticezed their leadership.
Minority students have said that the deans have not lived up to their commitment to minorities because the constant crush of classroom and client work does not leave time for remedial work with students who come from disadvantaged educational back-grounds.
"That problem is on the way to being solved," said Jean Cahn, explaining that students had been leaving the school with uneven educations because there was no way to tell if a student needed special help in one area or another before the school developed a "diagnostic instrument" to test its students' abilities.
"It was just that people who came here from good schools were able to perform and perform fast so they got to do more things than students from poor educational backgrounds," she explained. "We'll be in a better position to help people develop from now on."
Complaints from minority students and faculty members against the Cahns have contributed to the highly charged atmosphere at the school. The Cahns aggravated the tension at the school when they cited the faculty as examples of racists in recent grant application.
"Nothing can diminish the fact that these deans are very difficult people to work with," said Birenbaum, the school's president. "They need assistance just as I do."