Remembering Benjamin Kaplan

Royall Professor of Law Emeritus Benjamin Kaplan

Credit: HLS Historical and Special Collections

I do not write letters to the editor of alumni magazines or other publications, but I could not help but react to, and thank you for, the Faculty Tribute to Professor Kaplan in the Winter 2011 issue.

My first law school class (September 1958) was Civil Procedure. I watched in terror as Professor Kaplan called on and verbally sparred with names chosen at random from a seating chart of about 125 students. The day came in October when my name was called. I do not remember the question, but I remember nervously mouthing some response. This was followed by a short series of questions from Professor Kaplan and answers from me. His teaching skills converted the wide-of-the-mark answer I had originally given into a response somewhere near the target. The experience gave me the confidence I needed that long-ago first year.

Remembering Benjamin Kaplan

It was with the deepest sadness that I marked the passing of Professor Benjamin Kaplan, who taught me Civil Procedure 42 years ago at the Harvard Law School. “Big Ben,” as we called him—not to be in any way equated with the brutish football player—brought to his classroom a steel-trap mind, a thorough knowledge of the classics, biblical quotes, sparks of grandfatherly wisdom, a wry sense of humor, a self-deprecating wit and an unwavering love of teaching. Professor Kaplan, along with Professor Laurence Tribe and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, were simply the best teachers I ever had. Ben Kaplan was a giant of the law who challenged us in ways that still resonate—and still reward.

Remembering Benjamin Kaplan

Moved by your Faculty Tribute to Benjamin Kaplan in your most recent issue, I want to second my own deep appreciation of this man, teacher and warm human being.

I had been his student in a seminar on copyright law. In applying to graduate school for an advanced degree in art history and archaeology, a recommendation was needed and I went to Professor Kaplan. Upon hearing my request, he immediately remarked I was “crazy” and then wrote one anyway, a recommendation good enough to obtain fellowships for me at Harvard and at Yale for which I was always grateful.

Supreme coverage

That cover photo of Justices Kagan and Roberts by Brooks Kraft is outstanding.

Not progressive but reactionary

Your current [Winter 2011] issue reads like a propaganda broadsheet for the various misguided causes of the left. These are not “progressive” issues but reactionary ones; the children of the ’60s never learned or accepted that they were simply wrong, but the rest of the world has moved on. There is nothing to celebrate about the Obama administration except its gradual passing.

A call for more political balance

I thank Harvard Law School for its video of the panel discussion on the book by Professors Blum and Heymann, “Laws, Outlaws, and Terrorists.” I was led to it by a story in the Bulletin [“Looking for the Third Paradigm: When Criminal Law and the Laws of War Are Not Enough”]. However, it would have been a far better panel if one conservative had been included.

It appears that Blum and at least one other panelist believe the threat of terrorism is exaggerated, even though Islamic imperialism once was on the verge of completely dominating the civilized world. All of the panelists assumed that terrorism was in reaction to the foreign policy of the United States and not a matter of religious obligation. Finally, all panelists assumed that the legal opinions of John Yoo and Judge Bybee were motivated by political considerations and were not their honest opinions.

I think the panel would have had far more to offer had it been more politically balanced. But I was able to make up my mind on whether to buy the book.

CorrectionThe photo caption for Outside the Classroom on Page 22 of the Winter 2011 issue reversed the order of the two students in the photo. “It should have read: Professor Deborah Anker LL.M. ’84, HIRC director, with Gianna Borroto ’11, Defne Ozgediz ’11 and Sabrineh Ardalan, clinical instructor.”