Paul L. Caron

Monday, July 17, 2017

Harvard Law School Task Force On Academic Community And Student Engagement Issues Report; Students Protest Excessive Faculty Influence

Harvard Law School (2016)Harvard Law School Task Force on Academic Community and Student Engagement:

A working group of twelve Harvard Law School faculty, alumni, and students have examined the student experience in four core areas: (1) institutional culture, (2) curriculum, (3) mentoring, and (4) institutional supports. After gathering student input, advice and counsel from related law school offices, and research on the practices of peer institutions, the Task Force has submitted a report of their findings to Dean John Manning.

Harvard Crimson, Law School Task Force Releases Findings, Students Dissent:

Law School professor Bruce H. Mann, who chaired the committee, said that the Task Force focused on identifying the opportunities and challenges that a law school as large and diverse as Harvard faces. “The opportunities lie in bringing together people of different races, genders, ethnicities, gender identities, nationalities, political views, religious affiliations, incomes, career aspirations, and experiences to learn from and alongside one another and to engage in the free exchange of ideas that is essential to the rigorous pursuit of knowledge,” Mann said. “The challenges lie in creating the conditions that foster inclusion and respect for differences and that enable everyone to discuss, debate, and disagree on difficult issues and topics.”

Though all of the committee’s faculty members signed the report, only two of four student members did so. All four student members and one faculty member, Susan P. Crawford, signed an addendum highlighting what they saw as the shortcomings of the process, specifically focusing on influence of the faculty perspective on the report.

From the addendum signed by all four student members of the committee and by Professor Crawford:

[A] broader problem on campus [is] the wide latitude of the HLS professorate vis-a-vis the rest of the HLS community. To this end, in our capacity as student representatives to this Task Force, we felt compelled and driven by principle to articulate the concerns of students in a manner that we think best captures the concerns of our peers. ...

The faculty is the gatekeeper of Harvard Law School. They are a self-governing, self-regulating body that collectively determines the direction of the institution. At present, faculty answers to no one within the law school community, whether on procedural or academic matters. Therefore, Harvard Law School, like any sizable institution, has room for improvement, but only if the institution and its gatekeepers are open to progress. If the law school is serious about making positive change, faculty must genuinely listen to the ideas, suggestions, questions, and concerns of the entire community. Harvard Law School is nothing more than a partnership between its faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Only through true and meaningful engagement with all of these essential stakeholders that make up the institution will we be able to achieve the lofty goals set out in the school’s mission statement. ...

[W]e are of the view that our inquiry should not have been limited to just students, as if students were the source and maker of their own problems. We believe that we would have been in a better position to make recommendations had our inquiry extended to all stakeholders of this community, as stated in the charge. Make no mistake: resolution of the manifold concerns of the HLS Community will not be achieved without a synergistic inquiry into all facets of the Community. However, mindful of the time and resource constraints on our committee, we strongly recommend that a new committee be formed with the charge to conduct a holistic examination of faculty policies, politics, and pedagogy.

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"Engagement with the student community was instead structured around open meetings with the Task Force with each meeting having an assigned discussion topic. These meetings were sparsely attended, with Task Force members outnumbering attending students on many occasions. The information gathered from these meetings,
however representative of the few students who attended, was highly anecdotal, and difficult to garner large conclusions from."

It sounds like most students don't care about trying to change HLS enough to even show up. Presumably they realize they are lucky to be there.

Posted by: apathy | Jul 17, 2017 6:43:01 AM