Letters

More on Miró

Miro Painting

Credit: HLS Historical & Special Collections

I always enjoy reading the Bulletin but was thrilled to read the article on Page 5 of the Fall 2012 issue on the Miró mural [“Art Appreciation”]. It sent me to my file cabinet of my old writings from Harvard Law, in particular my full-page article in the March 15, 1956, Record on the Harkness Commons murals. I got to interview Walter Gropius about them, and you can read in my article what he said about the Miró. [“Art has its own language; listen to the painting … and you will understand it.”] I’ll never forget the observation of the fine arts instructor, also quoted: “You can interpret it all you want, but it’s not exactly clean.”

Proud to be a member

I enjoyed Jeri Zeder’s article “Jointly Held” in the Fall 2012 Bulletin. Like my business school classmate Mitt Romney, I received the coveted J.D./M.B.A. degrees from Harvard, although I was not a student in the combined program. I earned mine the “hard” way, first spending three years in the law school, then, after a brief stint with a Wall Street firm, returning to Soldiers Field to obtain my M.B.A. Ironically, after being first accepted into the J.D./M.B.A. program at Stanford, I was not one of the fortunate ones to be admitted to Harvard’s initial joint class, so I elected to take them one at a time. I’m glad I did, and I have utilized both degrees in subsequent careers in law, real estate and, now, executive search. Needless to say, this is an exclusive “club” of Harvard alumni and I am proud to be a member.

What did their women classmates think?

obama_hlb-f12-13127.inside

Credit: Harvard University News Office

I received the Fall 2012 issue yesterday and read with interest your profiles of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as law students. After listening to Tuesday evening’s presidential debate, the most notable portions of which were devoted to discussion of each candidate’s position on women’s issues, I was struck by the fact that not a single woman from either the Class of ’75 (Romney) or the Class of ’91 (Obama) was quoted among those who remembered the candidates as law students. I was a classmate of President Obama’s but would have been interested in the recollections and perspectives of other women about both candidates in their days at HLS.

A falsehood twice repeated

Having attended HLS with President Obama, I was naturally interested in the feature on him in the Fall 2012 issue [“Most Likely to Succeed?”]. I was surprised, however, that you twice repeated the falsehood that his speech introducing Professor Derrick Bell occurred in 1991. It did not. The speech occurred in 1990. I know because I was there. In the “infamous” video, I may be seen in the background behind Professor Bell in a brown hat and bomber jacket.

The 1991 inaccuracy seems to have arisen from the laughable Andrew Breitbart “exposé” of the 1990 film. Such an error is expected and acceptable on Faux News, but not from an official HLS publication.

Editor’s noteThe rally in support of Derrick Bell at which Barack Obama spoke occurred in 1990, as Mr. Taylor reports. We regret the error.

Questions of consistency

Your article on Ted Cruz underscores the difference between the Tea Party and Libertarians [Fall 2012, “Carrying the Tea Party Banner”]. The former espouses limited government only when that conforms to its right-wing ideology, including Christian values (but certainly not charity for the poor).

If you champion liberty, you should not restrict a woman’s rights concerning her uterus nor give her rights to contraception an inferior legal status just because popular religions deplore such rights.

Archconservatives say their opponents ignore the meaning of the Constitution—as if only conservatives know what “due process” means. Yet they say the U.S. Constitution limits a state’s power to regulate gun possession. What can be more wrong? The Bill of Rights does not limit state power. However, the 14th Amendment has been held to apply some of the restrictions of the Bill of Rights to the states, but not all. (For instance, the Supreme Court has held that a unanimous verdict of 12 jurors is necessary for a criminal conviction in federal court but not in a state court.) Of all the provisions of the first nine amendments, the Second Amendment, concerning the right to bear arms (based on the states’ right to have a militia), is the least likely to carry over to restrict the states.

Cruz boasts that his father did not get government handouts, but his father did go to a state university. The Tea Party speaks of cutting taxes as if education, police and fire protection, roads, courts, and libraries were not legitimate functions. It’s like the frugal farmer who thought he could save money by gradually decreasing his horse’s food. When the horse died, he complained that it was terrible because he almost had the horse down to eating nothing.

Socratic method may detract from learning experience

Regarding the piece in the Fall 2012 issue on why law school graduates become leaders (“From the Dean”): I agree that the ability to think critically about a problem and analyze it from various perspectives is one of the chief benefits of a legal education. I am not so sure, however, that the Socratic method deserves the lion’s share of the credit for this. While use of Socratic questioning may benefit students in some ways, it can also all too easily foster a hostile learning environment rather than a supportive one, obstruct spontaneous reflection through fear of inopportune disconnection, and substitute thoughtful, voluntary dialogue with awkward pauses, nervous vocalizations, and hasty verbalizations. These consequences detract from rather than contribute to the overall learning experience, and may help explain why, nearly a century and a half after its debut in American legal education, the Socratic method remains strongly associated with only that same academic domain, where its application has been tempered over time.

Law School Curricula Should Continue to Encourage Leadership

I couldn’t agree more with Dean Minow’s assessment regarding the reasons that law school graduates become leaders. I do hope that our law school curricula will continue to encourage such leadership—particularly among some of the students for whom leadership roles may seem out of reach due to their own personal lack of confidence.

The Law and Public Policy Connection

I have two different thoughts in response to Dean Minow’s interesting article in the Fall 2012 Harvard Law Bulletin. The first is that she asserts, but does not provide evidence to show, that law school graduates are more often leaders than graduates of other prestigious schools at Harvard or elsewhere. I wonder if that is really true. My second thought, however, is that assuming the truth of the proposition, perhaps one additional reason why HLS graduates become leaders is that in our society the law has been the mechanism through which we formulate and put into practice our public policies. With public policies greatly affecting almost everything we do now, lawyers are naturally more likely to emerge as leaders than people with other skills.

What the world needs now

The wonderfully folksy humorist Sam Levenson (a former high school language instructor, who left that profession because, as he lamented, “teaching was a luxury I couldn’t afford”) once told the story of how he was often asked by students to write references for them for college admission. On every reference form the question was asked, “Is this person a leader?,” to which Levenson, knowing what was expected, invariably replied with an enthusiastic affirmative. After several years of doing this, however, he received a letter from one university admissions officer saying, “Dear Mr. Levenson: Having sent us so many leaders, can you now please send us a few followers?”

Illustration

Credit: David Pohl

In her recent article lionizing leadership, and by implication conferring a self-congratulatory accolade on Harvard Law School and legal education in general, Dean Minow writes: “It is a source of pride for Harvard Law School that two of our graduates are currently competing to serve as president of the United States.” But given the dubious quality of their so-called leadership, I would be inclined to argue the contrary, that she might better have said, a source of embarrassment.

Forget the ’75 graduate. … Let’s just consider the ’91 graduate, a former president of the Harvard Law Review, no less. Quite apart from his outright betrayal of the principles and promises upon which he based his initial campaign for the U.S. presidency, for which he has been roundly criticized by his constituency, his callous indifference to, and egregious flouting of, the rule of law relating to any number of crucial policy issues—drone warfare, indefinite detentions, military tribunals and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, to mention only a few—have elicited condemnation from a far larger cohort, both here and abroad. And understandably so, as these policies are clearly an offense to anyone endowed with even the slightest sense of decency, let alone familiarity with the law.

It’s troubling that in her article, Dean Minow makes no mention of Ralph Nader [’58], who with considerable justification believes President Obama to be as much of a “war criminal” as was his presidential predecessor. Yet she does mention as “amazing” the “dropout” John Negroponte, whom Human Rights Watch has accused of “having looked the other way when atrocities were committed” during his ambassadorship in Honduras.

Sam Levenson’s apocryphal university might have wanted its fair share of both leaders and followers, but given the almost inevitable mediocrity, if not the outright malevolence and brutality, of the former and the appalling (if understandable) apathy and docility of the latter—a phenomenon not just of our times and our country but one that spans the ages and the world—it would seem that our very real, and very troubled, universe paradoxically needs fewer of both. If the long and dismal history of humankind’s ill-governance is any indication, Dean Minow and her colleagues should instead see as their educational goal the creation of Rosa Parks-like social activists, Thomas Paine-style revolutionaries and other often unsung luminaries, who in a more modest way work to transmit into reality their noble ideals and lofty vision to which they remain unwaveringly true throughout their lives. In those kinds of graduates we could indeed all take pride.