Like a replay of the 1960s, 15 black students marched into the dean's office at the Antioch School of Law in Northwest Washington yesterday morning and announced they were taking over.
They were mad, the students said, because Antioch officials had refused to respond to the 11 demands they had handed school officials on Wednesday: no tuition increase, a faculty, administration and staff that is 70 percent black [to match the population of the District], the firing of the academic dean, and eight other complaints.
But unlike many of the tumultuous campus protests of the 1960s, this one ended quickly and quietly: The student protesters, members of the Black American Law Students Association, took no hostages, wrecked no furniture, destroyed no files. Instead, they walked out of Acting Dean J. Joseph Meng's office after 5-1/2 hours, agreeing to negotiate the demands on Monday. m
"Short for a sit-in," Meng tersely observed of the takeover, recalling the numerous times his office was commandeered in the late 1960s while he was an administrator at the City University of New York.
Antioch Law School is a division of Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio -- long known in American higher education circles as a bastion of student protest.
Moreover, the Antioch Law School has experienced almost constant turmoil this year, starting with the firing in mid-January of the school's founders, Edgar and Jean Camper Cahn, in a dispute over whether they had to send the law school's financial receipts to the central university treasury in Ohio.
The law school is the nation's foremost practioner of a clinical legal education, where law students routinely assist their professors in representing clients. But the Legal Services Corp., which provides the annual $420,720 grant for the legal clinic operations, has been threatening to cut off the aid in a dispute over who has the ultimate authority over the school -- the Yellow Springs administration or the local law school governing board.
The protesters barricaded themselves in a wing of administrative offices in an Antioch building at 2633 16th St. NW, after first allowing F. William Ling, Antioch's dean for administration and management, and his secretary to leave. There were no other officials in the offices when the takeover occurred.
Merceria Ludgood, 27, a second-year law student and chairperson of the black students' group, acted as the spokeswoman for the demonstrators outside Meng's locked office and refused to allow anyone to talk to those barricaded inside.
She said the demands of the school's 98 black students -- there are 422 students enrolled at Antioch -- grew out of their frustration in dealing with an administration that they say is unsympathic to the needs of black students. It does not prepare them to represent the school's mostly poor and mostly black legal clients, the students say.
But the protest this week was generated by recurring acts of vandalism at the school in which racial epithets -- it was "nigger" and "coon" last Monday -- have been sprayed in red paint on school and office walls.
"We felt the writing on the wall was just a symptom of a deeper kind of racism that was now beginning to take control of the law school," Ludgood said.
"We're saying we've seen a decline in the aggressive recruitment of minority students and faculty," she said.
She declined to release the full list of student demands, although Meng did. After receiving them Wednesday, the dean released a statement Thursday, saying the administration "unequivocally condemns the attack on Antioch's black community represented by the foul graffiti." At the same time, he pledged that the university "is absolutely committed to maintaining a high level of minority enrollment here."
But Meng did not respond point by point to the black students' demands.
As a result, the students took over his office to force a showdown.
Meng said in an interview that "there's no way" the school can accommodate the demand for a black faculty and administration that would reflect the District's ratio of 70 percent black population. Three of 15 current faculty members and one of four top administrators are black.
The school has proposed increasing the annual tuition from $3,990 to $4,500 starting next September. "I don't see how the place can run without a tuition increase," Meng said.