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Harvard Law Professor Accuses School of Discrimination

By Mary Jordan
The Washington Post

Harvard Law School's first tenured black professor, Derrick Bell, filed a discrimination complaint against the school yesterday, alleging that it "disproportionately excludes" black women and other minorities from its faculty.

The complaint, filed with the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights, seeks a formal investigation into a controversy that has received national attention and prompted campus protests.

Two years ago, Bell announced that he would not teach another day at Harvard Law unless it hired a black woman for a tenured position. In its 175-year history, a black women has never held a tenured or tenure-track position there.

Currently, 59 of the law school's 64 tenured or tenure-track faculty members are male, five are women and six are black males. There are no Asians, Hispanics or other minority members on the tenured faculty.

"The thinking is we have six black males, ain't that black people?" Bell, a popular professor at Harvard since 1969 and a former NAACP attorney, said yesterday in an interview. "There are none, N-O-N-E, Hispanics, Asians Americans and Native Americans on the faculty."

In a written response yesterday, Law School Dean Robert C. Clark said he does not believe the school has violated any state or federal law. "We would be happy to cooperate in any investigation that the Department of Education might undertake in response to this letter," the dean said.

In the past, Clark has said the law school is committed to achieving more diversity, but that the pool of qualified black women candidates is "small."

Last year, 121 black females taught full-time at the 176 law schools approved by the American Bar Association, ABA research shows.

Some of those black women held non-tenure track positions and would not be eligible for Harvard's usual selection process. According to Harvard professors who did not want to be named, only about 15 or 20 black women are teaching at the top universities from which Harvard traditionally draws its faculty.

"It is simply crazy, wrong and insulting to say that none of the people in the small pool of black women professors are qualified to teach at Harvard," said Bell, currently a visiting professor at New York University Law School, who last week asked Harvard to extend his two-year protest leave.

In his discrimination complaint and accompanying memorandum, Bell said Harvard Law refuses to advertise available positions and gets its faculty recommendations "through an insider-based network of colleagues at a few elitist institutions." Harvard traditionally has selected for its faculty graduates of "prestigious" law schools, former Supreme Court and other judicial clerks, and editors of law reviews.

Bell said women and minorities are underrepresented in these arenas. "The merit argument is a smokescreen for such nepotism. It is a way of continuing a racist, sexist, homophobic tradition with words whose viciousness is cloaked by what appears to be an insistence on excellence."

Yesterday on Harvard's campus, students posted fliers announcing a Wednesday rally in Bell's support.