March 5, 2016

That terrible Harvard Law School crest.



See the problem? Last November, I blogged about the controversy in a post titled "Looking for something to be offended by? Check out Harvard Law School's logo."

And now the law school's dean, Martha Minow, is writing to alumni to tell them about the committee she formed and the recommendation it reached — to drop the crest (she calls it a "shield") — and about her support of that recommendation and her forwarding of the recommendation to the Harvard Corporation. Alumni see her letter to the corporation, which is printed out over at Above the Law, where Elie Mystal strongly supports the crushing of the old crest. He says:
Sure, the shadowy “Corporation” could always overrrule Dean Minow. But the only way to turn this from a campus controversy to national news would be for a secretive collection of impossibly rich white people to overrule the students and the dean of a law school in support of a racist insignia. I expect the Corporation will go along with Minow’s recommendation.
The links within the Minow letter don't appear at ATL, so the reference to a "thoughtful separate opinion with a different view" goes nowhere. But I have it: here. The author is Annette Gordon-Reed (the Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History). Excerpt:
[F]rom the moment I learned, some years ago, about the wheat sheaves’ connection to the Royall Plantation and the plantation’s connection to the Law School, the burning question for me has been, “What would be the best and easiest way to keep alive the memory of the people whose labor gave Isaac Royall the resources to purchase the land whose sale helped found Harvard Law School?”....

Maintaining the current shield, and tying it to a historically sound interpretive narrative about it, would be the most honest and forthright way to insure that the true story of our origins, and connection to the people whom we should see as our progenitors (the enslaved people at Royall’s plantations, not Isaac Royall), is not lost....
But isn't it like flying the Confederate flag?
For nearly its entire existence, the shield has sent no singular public message or had any function besides announcing the “arrival” of the Harvard Law School, generally viewed positively as one of the premier educational institutions in the world. Therefore, the shield is not, as I have heard it said in formal conversations about this issue and in informal ones, in any way akin to the Confederate flag....

The Confederate Flag came into existence as part of a clear and unambiguous project: it was a battle standard.... By this point in our history, these associations are too strong to totally divest that flag of its original meaning....  As lawyers, we are trained to distinguish situations—to notice how this particular thing is not like that other particular thing—and to find the reasoning about them that should flow from those differences. We can apply that here.....

I understand that getting rid of the shield altogether may seem less confrontational and the more conservative option. But this is a moment for daring and creativity. We are in the midst of an explosion of interest in and scholarship about slavery in New England. As an educational institution, HLS should be among the leaders of the effort to explicate this history....

Thanks to historians, we have “new knowledge” that we are joined in history to a group of people entrapped in the tragedy of the Atlantic slave trade. This also joins us to the larger American story of slavery. We should take this knowledge and run with it, not away from it. I end where I began: the larger purpose outside of our own personal feelings is to marry the memory of the injustice done to the people enslaved on the Royall plantation to Harvard Law School’s modern commitment to justice and equality through a well-known symbol that connects both.
ADDED: ATL also didn't provide Minow's letter to the Corporation or the committee's recommendation Minow. The Washington Post reprints the committee's recommendation, here.

Someone forwarded the Minow letter to the Corporation. Excerpt:
Each year since I became dean, I welcome entering JD students to campus with discussion of the portrait of Isaac Royall, Jr., whose gift of land helped support the first professorship of law at Harvard. I observe that the money came from the work of individuals enslaved on his family's plantation in Antigua, and that while Harvard University at that time acted legally in accepting the gift, it is crucial that we never confine ourselves to solely what is currently lawful, for the great evil of slavery happened within the confines of the law. That is why HLS does not simply teach what the law is, but engages in critiques of the law, constant reminders to test what we do in service to our aspirations for virtue and justice.

Whatever was known in the past, powerful and challenging questions now arise about the Harvard Law School shield. Designed in 1936 as part of the University’s tercentenary, it contains a design based on a bookplate used by Isaac Royall, Sr., who passed his wealth—including enslaved persons—to his son, the initial donor to the school. What role should history play in defining who we are?...

As for the shield itself, I endorse the committee’s recommendation to retire it. There are complex issues involved in preserving the histories of places and institutions with ties to past injustices, but several elements make retiring the shield less controverted than some other issues about names, symbols, and the past. First, the shield is a symbol whose primary purpose is to identify and express who we mean to be. Second, it is not an anchoring part of our history: it was created in 1936 for a University celebration, used occasionally for decades and used more commonly only recently, and does not extend back to the origin of the School or even much beyond recent memory. Third, there is no donor whose intent would be undermined; the shield itself involves no resources entrusted in our care....

58 comments:

Michael K said...

Feminist law school. How many graduates actually practice law ?

chickelit said...

There must be a reason why Trump won Massachusetts. What is it?

Dr Weevil said...

It seems to me that if they remove the Royall connection from the coat of arms they are morally obligated to track down any surviving descendants of the evil Mr. Royall and give them all the money he gave Harvard, plus interest. Descendants of Royall's slaves could then sue Royall's descendants for their share. If anyone is descended from Royall and his slaves - likely enough - things will get really complicated.

hombre said...

If they can't put the PC silliness aside, they can alway say the wheat sheaves are asparagus. There. Fixed.

john said...

Mindy Kaling already addressed the problems with the crest. Nothing that can't be fixed with a dab of hollandaise.

Tank said...

...We are in the midst of an explosion of interest in and scholarship about slavery in New England...

Wowee. An explosion. I mean that is interesting. Really. I mean really really.

Why not just close the school. Give the assets to black people to make up for all that New England Slavery. Really.

Fernandinande said...

See the problem?

Yes, the "A" in the center of the right-most book looks terrible. They need a 6-letter slogan.

Dr Weevil said...
It seems to me that if they remove the Royall connection from the coat of arms they are morally obligated to track down any surviving descendants of the evil Mr. Royall and give them all the money he gave Harvard, ...


It's just virtue signaling, so don't worry about them putting their money where their mouths are.

robother said...

Presumably, they will also replace "Veritas" with "Mendacium."

LYNNDH said...

"I understand that getting rid of the shield altogether may seem less confrontational and the more conservative option." A conservative option? Seems very radical too me and very far left. What a petty little object to get into a tizzy about. The left must be running out of options on what to focus their objections.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Nice try Prof GR, but we aren’t buying; burn that bitch down!
Maybe HLS should declare itself an HBC for some specified period (say 20 years) and adjust their admission policies accordingly. Think outside that ( slaveowners descendant) box.

Bob Boyd said...

The shield is just a symbol. If the symbol is tainted, the thing it symbolizes is tainted as well. Shouldn't all these virtuous people who teach and work there leave?
And the students, it's too easy to just protest and preen until the symbol is gone, then brag about what fighter for justice you are when you have accomplished nothing of substance. The students should also leave and study somewhere else. By their own standard, how is it moral for them to enjoy the tremendous benefits of being a Harvard Law grad when it all derives from slavery?
I say close the place. Tear down the buildings. Make a Trump golf course out of it where descendants of Royall slaves can play for half price on Mondays after 1 PM.

MadisonMan said...

What a marvelous way to spend time and tuition money.

As far as giving the money back to the Royall family, typically once you give money it's gone unless you stipulate things very clearly.

For example, my great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather gave a sum of money to Carroll College in Waukesha back in the 1880s with the stipulation that all their descendants could go to school there, gratis. Well, when Dad's cousin tried to go there free, the college predictably balked, this was 50+ years after the gift, but as I was told (I was wondering if I could get my kids a free education), the College relented this one time but added that the offer was terminated after that. Now, I don't know if the signing away of the rights of this branch of the family by a cousin would hold up, but Carroll (now University) wasn't on my kids' radars. Perhaps if they have kids who want to go there in 30 years, I'll resurrect this notion.

Michael K said...

"Why not just close the school. Give the assets to black people to make up for all that New England Slavery. Really."

Bingo !

Fernandinande said...

robother said...
Presumably, they will also replace "Veritas" with "Mendacium."


Then they'd have 3 letters that looked terrible; "mendax" would fit nicely.

Birches said...

So this is what it was like to live in 1968? Things are falling apart and splintering spectacularly.

traditionalguy said...

That was the wealth that endowed our private colleges in the 1680 to 1830 era. We were agricultural Coloneas that used slaves from Africa to service sugar cane that was made molasses and rum for transport. It had textile mills that needed slave tended Cotten woven into rough cloth for slave's clothes and food grown in New England and shipped on New England ships from its local farms for slave's food, with the whole enterprise run by Connecticutt merchants to become mega wealthy, like the Bush family.

Today they chose to use Chinese Communist Party slave workers. So by all means replace the old days Shield Logo with a Hammer and Sickle.

Laslo Spatula said...

The crest is a micro-aggression to the gluten-free.

Are there gluten-free black people, or is it just a White Thing?

I am Laslo.

elkh1 said...

I support the crushing of Harvard which is waaaaaaay over rated. They don't care about facts, and debates of ideas, they cower behind a few screaming snowflakes and crybullies.

Get rid of Harvard so taxpayers can save multimillions of grants a year. Parents pay more than a quarter of a million to send their progenies to waste their lives in such hostile environment. Where can the sane students get the years of their lives back? They should file a class action suit against Harvard.

For the same reason, get rid of Yale and the Ivies. They teach passive-aggressive behaviors instead of logical reasoning. Shameful.

rhhardin said...

There's a V in veritas. Truth is woman, as Nietzsche said.

Steve Uhr said...

Elkh1 - Instead of simply spouting the conservative line, which anyone can do in their sleep, esp. if they spend much time on this blog, why don't YOU provide some facts in support of YOUR position that HLS doesn't "care about facts" and doesn't teach legal reasoning.

cyrus83 said...

Perhaps they could replace the "Veritas" with "Liberi". That would at least be truth in advertising and fool people who don't know Latin very well.

Steve Uhr said...

I wonder how Scalia and Cruz and Roberts managed to get through 3 years of Harvard Law without turning into leftist mush. Oh, I forgot, Roberts is now the enemy of the right because you don't like his decision on a couple cases. Legal reasoning doesn't matter -- just so you get the "right" result.

Bob Boyd said...

It's a Micro-justice.

Amadeus 48 said...

Next thing you know, John Forbes Kerry will give a weepy speech about the crimes committed by the New England troops in King Phillip's War, renounce his Puritan ancestry, and toss replicas of his Mayflower Society insignia into the lobby of the New England Genealogical Society.

Gahrie said...

Legal reasoning doesn't matter -- just so you get the "right" result.

Get back to me when a Conservative Justice bases his decision on an abstraction emerging from a shadow.

Anglelyne said...

This isn't about slavery. It's just another episode in the now rapidly accelerating process of "fuck Dead White Males" and "hey hey ho ho Western Civ has got to go." A nation and culture without a past is a ghost, it doesn't exist.

Anything associated with slavery is a good place to start; it's easy to wrong-foot dissenters when moral indignation at slavery can be invoked as the motivation for taking a wrecking-ball to your enemy's past as an essential part of the project of destroying his future.

CWJ said...

Once sheepskin is in hand, and "Harvard Law" is added to the resume,there's not a single student that will give a Damn about the school crest.

coupe said...

Maybe they should cut their tuition and fees in half, out of respect to all the mammies who wiped the Harvard children's noses.

YoungHegelian said...

Well, now we know why all Harvard lawyers have got rhythm & can sing a song.

chuck said...

Saint Petersburg -> Petrograd -> Leningrad -> Saint Petersburg, fads and fancies come and go. Yes, Petersburg was renamed in 1914 to remove the German saint and burg.

RonF said...

The real problem with the Harvard coat of arms - and I'm talking for the entire school, not just the B-school - is that it incorporates the Latin word for "truth", the discovery, understanding and exposition of which is no longer the objective of a Harvard education.

FullMoon said...

If the slighted blacks had any sense, they would point to the crest and say "we built this fuckin' place"

LarsPorsena said...

Crests are the vestigial artifacts of oppressive feudalism.
Free the Serfs! Ban all crests!

Virgil Hilts said...

A few more HLS alums just decided to hold their nose and vote for Trump.

FWBuff said...

Has anyone in this controversy considered that the sheaves may have been intended as biblical references? Harvard was founded as a religious institution, after all.

A couple of possibilities:

Deuteronomy 24:19 "When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."

Psalm 126:6 "Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them."

Bill Peschel said...

If they want to acknowledge the role slaves played in building the place, they could put two of them at the bottom, supporting the crest.

Or maybe follow Jamaica's crest, which has two standing figures. One of them could be a slave (female, with breasts covered), and the other a Social Justice Warrior transexual. Win-win!

traditionalguy said...

New Crest motto: "Look, Mom. No Slaves."

JaimeRoberto said...

Slavery in the US ended 150 years ago. Time to move on and stop playing the victim.

LarsPorsena said...

Blogger JaimeRoberto said...
Slavery in the US ended 150 years ago. Time to move on and stop playing the victim.

3/5/16, 11:48 AM
-------------------------------------------------------

Too many people dependent on the victim-industrial complex now. Would cause severe unemployment and spoil our next 'recovery' summer.

n.n said...

Gahrie:

abstraction emerging from a shadow

The emanations from a penumbra were divine spirits that imparted liberal society with a pro-choice religion from its darkest fringes.

You don't appreciate the significance of their cult because you don't share their faith and fear their ancient practices of human sacrifice and cannibalism, but that's just the beginning of trials under a philosophy of special or peculiar selectivity.

YoungHegelian said...

@FWBuff,

No, no. The proper Biblical verse to explain how Harvard Law graduates see their sense of social justice towards the rest of us is Deuteronomy 25:4

Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the grain.

William said...

I wonder if any at the Harvard Lampoon will make fun of the fatuity involved in this. Probably not. That's one of the blessings with being on the left. You live in a mockery free zone.

elkh1 said...

Steve Uhr said...

I wrote "logical reasoning", not "legal reasoning".

Because the demands are illogical, the responses are more so. If they have been taught, they have not learned.

David Begley said...

This should be a complete hoot to watch.

If replaced, what will the new crest/shield/ logo look like?

Steve Uhr said...

elkh1 -- Sorry but you are a little dense for me today. What "demands are illogical" What may have "been taught" but "not learned?" Perhaps you could give an example of what it is you mean. thanks.

Roger Sweeny said...

Sure it's virtue signalling. But "We think slavery is wrong" isn't a bad thing to signal.

William said...

If you think slavery is wrong, shouldn't your best efforts be directed at protesting the continued existence of a half million slaves on Mauritania rather than the wheat sheaves on the Harvard crest. I can understand the reluctance to protest the sex slaves in ISIS territory. Such protests only serve to inflame Isllamophobia which is a much worse crime than sex slavery, but surely there are extant much worse representations of hatred and bondage than the wheat sheaves on the Harvard crest,

raf said...

HLS does not simply teach what the law is, but engages in critiques of the law, constant reminders to test what we do in service to our aspirations for virtue and justice

So a given standard of virtue and justice rises above the law? What do we do if there are differing and incompatible versions of virtue/justice? I know, we'll get together in a group and hammer out rules for behavior that we may not think are perfect but we can at least live with. that way we can avoid ongoing social or physical conflict. We can call them 'laws.'

HLS seems to have a strange concept of what a school of law should teach.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

My doctoral advisor has a Harvard-shield toilet seat cover. I always thought that was goofily appropriate.

But, my, aren't we searching awfully hard for microaggressions now? Sheaves of wheat = slavery? Before that, I think it was the CA state seal (I think), which had (gasp!) some crosses on it in one corner. If you really want to de-Christianize CA, why not just rename every town and city beginning with "San" or "Santa." Or, of course, other Christian references like, say, "Sacramento." It'd be a truly massive infrastructure project, but we're always being told that we need more of those.

Michael said...

Why someone doesn't tell these people to fuck off is why we are going to have Donald Trump as president. For the love of God.

I think they should put Kim Kardashian's ass on the shield. Technicolor. Because modern

Deirdre Mundy said...

Without the background info, I would have thought it showed Three Fasces.

Harvard Law: We are Tres Fascist!

Deja Voodoo said...

to drop the crest (she calls it a "shield")
Because it is a shield. The crest sits atop the helm above the escutcheon (quick, define "crest") in the achievement of arms.

gadfly said...

Perhaps the Dean could trade with Setan Hall and both will be better off.

https://www.setonhill.edu/offices/marketing/university-logos/

gadfly said...

Perhaps the Dean could trade with Setan Hall and both will be better off.

https://www.setonhill.edu/offices/marketing/university-logos/

PB said...

Looks more like asparagus, to me.

Biff said...

Why even have a shield at all? Aren't shields and coats of arms militaristic and triggering?

The struggle to name the two new residential colleges at Yale should be entertaining, too, by the way.

Harold Montgomery said...

Personally, I don't care if the Ivys kill and eat each other. As a southerner I object to the demeaning and smearing of the Confederate flag. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the best cavalry officer in history, was asked to speak to speak to a Black group after the war about improving relations. He supported their goal and offered to help anyone who asked. His body was recently dug up and removed from Forrest park in Memphis. Obama has done a lot for race relations.

Eme Eses said...

If Dean Minow is truly to purge this sin, this taint upon HLS, she should prevail upon the school to give back the value of the initial Royall endowment, WITH INTEREST, to Royall's successors (or to charities if successors cannot be identified). This will cost HLS several billion dollars, but at least it won't have those little wheat sheaves on its conscience anymore.