I just found out what the black alumni are celebrating this weekend at Harvard Law School. I suppose it’s obvious to most readers, but I’m just a Harvard Law Caveman.
They’re celebrating the affirmative action program that was put into place in the 1960s which was responsible for something like 4/5 of them obtaining Harvard Law degrees they otherwise would not be been able to obtain (judging by their performance, after admission, compared with their classmates — see my last post).
I figured it out when I read to the end of the events program (I’m a slow reader). You can read it yourself here. At the end of the celebration the Dean is going to award the Harvard Law School Medal of Freedom (I have no idea what that is, but it sounds important) to Derek Bok and Walter Leonard.
I asked one of the black alumni why they’re getting the award, and why it’s being given out here. He told me Bok and Leonard are the ones who put in place the affirmative action program in the 1960s that led to a large increase of blacks at the school. I found some information in the archives of the campus newspaper about what Bok and Leonard did. It seems that over just a few years in the 1960s, while Bok was the Dean and Leonard was his assistant, they something like quintupled the blacks admitted to the Law School, from around 10 a year to around 50 a year (150 total for the three classes on campus at any particular time). You can read more about that here.
Although such an aggressive affirmative action program burdened all blacks at Harvard Law School with the stigma of probably not being as smart as the other students, a stigma that persists still, I guess a lot of black alumni are happy that they got Harvard Law School degrees, and I can see why they’d celebrate that and give an award to the men who got them those degrees.
I wonder, as they celebrate into the night, and as Bok and Leonard enjoy getting that medal, whether any of them will consider the moral question concerning affirmative action recently dicussed by Professor Ann Althouse. What about the hard-working, non-black applicants to Harvard Law School who were denied admission to make way for the dozens of black applicants admitted each year whose academic work (as measured by honors at graduation) didn’t end up being even close to average? Once it became clear that most of the black applicants being admitted under the program were ending up at the very bottom of their class, so that the opportunity being given them was being wasted, was it morally right to continue the program? What about the missed opportunity of the unseen — the more academically qualified applicants who were denied the chance to study at Harvard Law School, and who are not there this weekend? You can read more about that here and here.