Departing Harvard Law School Dean Draws Cheers, Jeers

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CAMBRIDGE — Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow, whose time at the helm of the elite institution has been defined by both her fund-raising acumen and an at-times uneasy relationship with campus social justice activists, will be stepping down from her post at the conclusion of the academic year.

In a letter to the law school community, Minow described her eight years leading Harvard Law as “an extraordinary honor and opportunity for daily learning” although Minow stressed that she will remain on the school’s faculty.

Liberal lawmakers, including U.S. Representative Joseph Kennedy III, hailed the departing dean. Kennedy took to social media to say he felt “humbled to consider Martha Minow a mentor and friend.”

Others offered different reflections.

“A bootlicker who got no credit from the tantrum-throwers that heckled her,” wrote Greg Piper, associate editor for The College Fix web site, referring to Minow’s inability to satisfy the insatiable demands of a legion of activist law students.

“Good riddance,” wrote the National Review’s Ed Whelan in a tweet.

New Boston Post closely followed Minow’s travails with the school’s social justice activists. Last March, Minow caved to activists who pressured administrators to dump the school’s crest — three wheat sheaves honoring Isaac Royall Jr., who left a chunk of his 500-acre estate in Medford to Harvard College after he died in 1781.

The school used the wealth to endow the first law professor’s position.

Student activists, however, interpreted the crest as a form of honoring a slaveholder and bowing to white supremacy:

The decision by Minow to yield to activists prompted other students to keep their opinions silent. In November 2015, after an unknown person vandalized the portraits of black law professors hanging in Wasserstein Hall by placing strips of black tape over their faces, Minow addressed students in a campus-wide email message by saying she was “saddened and angered” by the act, described it as a “potential hate crime” and promised a full investigation.

Minow also at the time claimed that “racism is a serious problem” at Harvard Law School. Professor Randall Kennedy, whose portrait was defaced, pondered in a New York Times op-ed whether the vandalism was a “hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis.”

Campus police wrapped up their investigation in January without publicly identifying a suspect.

The act, regardless of who did it or why, sparked activists to form a movement dubbed “Reclaim Harvard Law.”

A day after Minow caved to activists and declared her support to scrub imagery honoring the Royall family from the school’s crest, Reclaim Harvard Law sent her a list of “demands” — some of which called for additional financial aid for minorities, the creation of a new office of diversity and inclusion, and the addition of mandatory course requirements covering the subjects of racism and white supremacy.

As the spring semester moved forward, Reclaim Harvard Law activists “occupied” the school’s student center, adorning the common area with posters denouncing racism and calling for the school to meet its demands.

When a group of students posted their own posters to show a different opinion, the activists tore them down.

Minow proceeded to remind students in a campus-wide email message that the student lounge is a forum open to all ideas that “operates on the bedrock foundations of openness and free debate.”

As Whelan reflected in a National Review post following the announcement, “Minow recites university rules that provide that interference with freedom of speech is a ‘serious violation,’ but she offers no sign that she will take any disciplinary action against the violators.”

Minow became dean of the law school in 2009 after then-Dean Elena Kagan was tapped by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.