A national organization of black law students has voted to support a boycott of a Harvard Law School course on race discrimination to be taught by one of the country's most prominent civil rights lawyers, who is white.

The National Black American Law Students Association (BALSA) voted earlier this month to support the Harvard Black Law Students Association and the Harvard Law School Third World Coalition, which are boycotting the course to be taught by Jack Greenberg, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the fund's president, J. LeVonne Chambers, a black lawyer.

The groups contend that the course should be taught by a black, and preferably by a full-time faculty member. "This course is concerned with the legal system and Third-World people in the United States, and therefore it is extremely important that it be taught by an instructor who can identify and empathize with the social, cultural, economic and political experiences of the Third-World community," the Third World Coalition said.

Greenberg, who has headed the Legal Defense Fund for 30 years, "seems especially inappropriate" to teach the course "in light of his . . . adamant refusal to relinquish directorship" of the fund to a black lawyer, the Harvard students' group wrote Chambers.

The national organization accused Harvard Law School of "a long history of institutional racism, particularly in terms of hiring minority faculty and staff," noting that the school has only one full-time, tenured minority faculty member.

Despite "the glaring evidence of racial exclusion on the Harvard Law School faculty," the group said, student efforts to add minority faculty "have been met with resistance, placatory rhetoric and paternalism -- but with no significant addition of tenure-track minority professors."

"The fact that one of the two visiting lecturers for the boycotted course is a black attorney should make it obvious that BALSA is not motivated by 'anti-white' sentiments nor by a personal animosity toward Mr. Greenberg," the group said.