Students protesting the lack of minority professors at Harvard Law School are boycotting a course on race discrimination taught by two of the country's leading civil rights lawyers.
Only 43 students, all of whom are white, have enrolled in the course, which is taught by Jack Greenberg, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., and a black lawyer, Julius LeVonne Chambers, president of the fund.
Students who decided to take the intensive, three-week course had to cross a picket line of their peers for the first class meeting last week. The protesters, about 60 white and minority students, carried signs proclaiming, "One Tenured Black, One Tenured Woman--One Sorry Situation," and asking, "Which Side Are You On?"
The boycott, which made headlines across the country when it was announced last summer, provoked intense debate on campus about the need for increased minority representation on the faculty and the use of the boycott tactic.
"I don't think a boycott of a course on civil rights is an acceptable form of protest for people who are supporting civil rights," said Greenberg, who as head of the fund for 22 years has worked on many major civil rights cases. "It saddens me because I think the students are depriving themselves of an opportunity, and presenting their cause in an unfortunate light."
But Cecil McNab, co-chairman of the Third World Coalition, which organized the boycott, said it was necessary to spur Harvard to hire more full-time minority professors. There are two blacks on the 66-member law faculty.
McNab said the course is a "completely illegitimate response to minority student demands for a semester-long course on civil rights issues and for additional full-time minority professors."
While McNab said that "it has never been important to us in calling this boycott that Jack Greenberg is white," he maintained that a black professor would be better suited to teach the course. "Jack Greenberg doesn't live discrimination," he said. "There is some cultural value in presenting material that people who live with something personally, intimately, would have."
Harvard Law School Dean James Vorenberg argued in a letter to students, however, that "to boycott a course on racial discrimination, because part of it is taught by a white lawyer, works against not for, shared goals of racial and social justice."
Students who enrolled in the course generally said they disagreed with the boycotters' tactics rather than their aims. "Anybody who takes a course like this is not a bigot, and is interested in furthering the goals that people in the boycott are trying to get," said Margaret McGoldrick, a second-year student. "I think there is a need for both women and blacks in the faculty, but I don't think the boycott is the way to go. It's kind of cutting off your nose to spite your face."
McNab termed the boycott a success, citing the absence of minority students in the course, an overwhelming student vote in favor of affirmative action, and increased administration efforts to hire minority professors. "They've done more in the last year than they've ever done before," he said.
"It is pretty sad to say that it is a success that minority students were discouraged from taking a great course that should be of special interest to minority studnets," Vorenberg said. He said the faculty has been "thoroughly committed to adding minority teachers."
Meanwhile, boycott organizers are sponsoring a non-credit course next semester on "Racism and American Law," to be taught by a series of visiting minority law professors and lawyers.
"The idea behind the course is to have a course on race discrimination with minority professors and lawyers and to use it as a showcase that there are people out there that are minorities and that are very good," McNab said.