These are tough days for my alma maters. Dartmouth has been roiled by the administration’s feeble response to a Black Lives Matter protest that disrupted the library and involved, among other things, the screaming of racial epithets at white students. Meanwhile, Harvard Law School has been the scene of a supposed hate crime.
The back story is that the money that founded the law school came from a man named Royall, who was a slaveholder. This is how the law school itself tells the story:
Harvard Law School was established through a bequest from the estate of Isaac Royall, a wealthy Antiguan plantation owner and slaveholder who immigrated to Boston. Royall’s coat-of-arms, with its three stacked wheat sheaves, remains the school’s crest to this day.
The law school’s crest is displayed, among other places, at Wasserstein Hall. Someone, presumably a person associated with the movement on campus to do away with such reminders of the Royall family, put black tape over the seal. Then, overnight, someone removed some of the pieces of black tape and put them over portraits of black faculty members that hang in the hallway.
This supposed hate crime was described by a second-year student named Michele Hall, who also posted photos of the portraits with tape over them:
The reaction was what you would expect. Ms. Hall writes:
I am constantly reminded of the legacy of white supremacy that founded this school and still breathes through every classroom and lecture hall. I am also shown the small inroads that professors of color have made, breaking apart the notion that whiteness is the epitome of legal scholarship.
Whiteness is the epitome of legal scholarship? Seriously? What must her professors make of that claim?
To this day, the Royall family crest is the seal for Harvard Law School, and their legacy of white supremacy drips from every corner of the campus, like the blood of the 77 enslaved people murdered after a slave revolt on the Royall plantation. The defacing of the portraits of black professors this morning is a further reminder that white supremacy built this place, is the foundation of this place, and that we never have and still do not belong here.
Why would Ms. Hall want to attend a school where the “legacy of white supremacy drips from every corner of the campus”? If she really believed that, and seriously thought that she didn’t “belong here,” she presumably would leave. But I don’t think she means a word of it.
Associating Harvard Law School with slavery is very odd. The law school didn’t amount to much (no law school did) until long after Mr. Royall’s time. Like the rest of Harvard, it became a quintessential New England institution with a strong abolitionist bent. Harvard built Memorial Hall following the Civil War to commemorate the hundreds of Harvard alumni who died fighting on the Union side. It has been described as “the great symbol of Boston’s commitment to the Unionist cause and the abolitionist movement in America.”
The first African-American student, George Ruffin, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1869. He went on to become a judge. My guess is that he appreciated the opportunity that Harvard gave him a great deal more than Ms. Hall does.
At this point, no one knows who removed the black tape from the Harvard crest and put it on the professors’ portraits. Most such campus “hate crimes” turn out to be hoaxes perpetrated by members of the supposed victim group. Whether that will be the case here (assuming the mystery is ever solved), we don’t know. But the law school’s administration wasted no time jumping to conclusions. The President of Harvard, Drew Faust, put out this statement:
We join together as a university in deploring the defacing of portraits of African American faculty at the law school. Such acts of hatred are inimical to our most fundamental values and represent an assault on the mutual respect essential to our purposes as a community of learning and inquiry.
The Dean of the law school, Martha Minow, said that racism is a “serious problem” there. Really? Minow has been the Dean since 2009. Why has she allowed racism to flourish? Where has this “serious problem” been manifested, and what has she done about it? Who, exactly, are the “racists” who have created this serious problem? Frankly, I don’t believe a word she says.
Professor Charles Ogletree, whose portrait was one of those that had a piece of tape applied to it, responded more sensibly:
Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree, whose portrait was among those vandalized, said he was still waiting to learn more about the incident before making too strong of a judgement.
“We’re just trying to figure out what happened and try to figure why someone targeted black faculty,” Ogletree said.
One of the main things you learn in law school is that the first order of business is to find out what the facts are. The facts drive everything. Dean Minow, despite her many years on the faculty, doesn’t seem to have absorbed this basic lesson.
To one not immersed in the hothouse atmosphere of today’s academic institutions, the hysteria generated by events of this sort seems bizarre. Who cares that the law school’s seal is that of Isaac Royall, a slaveowner? When I was a law student, I had never heard of Royall and never thought for five seconds about the origin of the school’s crest. Why would that be of great concern to today’s students, whatever color they may be? What possible difference can it make to them?
Likewise, regardless of who moved the tape from the crest, where it had been symbolically placed, to portraits of black faculty members, where it was also symbolically placed, why should such a trivial event bring the law school, a great institution in some ways, to its knees? Why should so much importance be attached to the symbolic action of an unknown person–who, for all we know, may have been a member of the building’s cleaning crew? Are some of today’s law students really so fragile that their ability to function can be disrupted by moving a piece of tape? Apparently so. Among several reactions to this phenomenon is this one: I wouldn’t want anyone that delicate representing me in court.
UPDATE: Heather Mac Donald says: “Don’t Bet on the Harvard Law School ‘Hate Crime.’” Statistically, that’s good advice. Heather writes:
Perhaps there exists a Harvard law student so unable to control his impulses, or so clueless about today’s political environment, that he is willing to risk being expelled and banished from every high-powered job that would otherwise be available to him, simply in order to engage in a juvenile prank. But I am not betting on it. Don’t expect Harvard to disclose the outcome of its investigations into this latest “hate crime,” just as the UCLA law school never disclosed the outcome of its investigations into its own alleged hate crime a year ago.
Heather echoes my point: if racism is a “serious problem” at Harvard Law School, as the Dean says, why hasn’t she done something about it?
In the meantime, perhaps Dean Minow could identify those faculty members or students responsible for creating the “serious problem” of racism in the law school, a problem that apparently outweighs the school’s incessant efforts to hire black professors and to admit as many plausibly qualified black students as it possibly can.
The reality, of course, is that these left-wing administrators don’t mean anything they say. Of course racism isn’t a “serious problem” at Harvard Law School, and if it were, they presumably would be responsible. But they know that no one takes their pro forma lefty pronouncements seriously.