Harvard Law School has been roiled this academic year by allegations of racism–allegations that the school’s Dean, Martha Minow, has stipulated to be true, saying that racism is a “serious problem” at the law school. She doesn’t mean it, of course. Otherwise, someone might ask why she has failed to do something about the problem since becoming dean in 2009.
Protesters at the law school have focused on the school’s crest, which borrows from a bookplate that was used by one Isaac Royall, a slaveholder who donated (or whose son donated) land that provided early funding for the school:
This is one of those controversies that can be taken seriously only in academia. The law school crest denounced as “racist” has been used only since 1936, and then inconsistently. The sheaves of wheat, which come from the Royall bookplate, have no apparent connection to the law, to Massachusetts or to Harvard.
In response to student protests against the crest, Dean Minow appointed a committee to study the issue. That committee has now recommended, on a 10-2 vote, that the crest be retired. The committee’s report, which goes on at considerable length, can be read here.
Dean Minow has endorsed the committee’s recommendation in a letter to the Harvard Corporation that is reproduced by Ann Althouse:
Each year since I became dean, I welcome entering JD students to campus with discussion of the portrait of Isaac Royall, Jr., whose gift of land helped support the first professorship of law at Harvard. I observe that the money came from the work of individuals enslaved on his family’s plantation in Antigua, and that while Harvard University at that time acted legally in accepting the gift, it is crucial that we never confine ourselves to solely what is currently lawful, for the great evil of slavery happened within the confines of the law. That is why HLS does not simply teach what the law is, but engages in critiques of the law, constant reminders to test what we do in service to our aspirations for virtue and justice.
In other words, we do what we can to exert constant leftward pressure, since “our aspirations for virtue and justice” never involve free enterprise, constitutional government, the rule of law or respect for property rights.
It is easy to laugh at the Harvard Law School crest controversy, and similar upheavals at countless other universities, as insignificant squabbles that could occur only in academia. But there is, of as you might expect, something more substantial going on. These episodes of institutional self-flagellation are products of the affirmative action regime which now has been in place for decades. Institutions like Harvard Law School engage in race discrimination with respect to admissions. The inevitable result is that successful performance is not randomly distributed among their students.
This fact, understandably, makes administrators, professors and students uncomfortable. That discomfort is eased by the pretense that the long shadow of slavery still falls across institutions as august and seemingly liberal as Harvard Law School. Thus, the Royall crest committee wrote in its report:
The Committee was unanimous in recognizing that modern institutions must acknowledge their past associations with slavery, not to assign guilt, but to understand the pervasiveness of the legacy of slavery and its continuing impact on the world in which we live.
They have to believe in that “continuing impact,” no matter how little Isaac Royall and his bookplate have to do with the 21st century law school, because to do otherwise would require admitting that the law school engages in rank race discrimination, not only in admissions but in its endless pandering to favored victim groups.
Similarly, the Daily Mail quotes three left-wing law students, writing in the Harvard Crimson:
The murder, torture, and exploitation of the slave trade should not be sanitized because it created racial inequality in the present.
The continuing oppression of black lives in the United States is a direct result of the brutal history of the slave trade, and something that we have continuously failed to address.
So racial preferences can be doled out for another generation. That is what really is at stake in these academic controversies over “racism.”