While he does not write that much these days, Duncan Kennedy used to be a big deal. Kennedy was one of the leaders of Critical Legal Studies, the far leftist group of scholars who had a significant influence in the legal academy in the 1970s and 1980s. Interestingly, CLS seemed to lose tremenous influence after the fall of the Soviet Union, raising questions about their claim to favor a different type leftism than that country.
Harvard Law School was a troubled institution when I was a student there in the 1980s. The faculty was bitterly divided between liberal Democrats and radicals, and the radicals tried to take over. Three decades later it is hard to exaggerate the craziness of that time—demonstrations and mass meetings that were ripples from the power struggle among the professors. For instance, the faculty considered taking class participation into account in second and third year classes. The idea was to enliven classes so that they were no longer like the morgues many resembled. But some students and professors protested that the scheme was a plot to mark radicals down. And one of the radical professors memorably got up on the steps of Langdell Law Library to orate about how the proposal showed what a “repressive place” HLS was.
News of what became known as the “crit wars” got out to the alumni, the President appointed a new Dean, Bob Clark, and HLS slowly ceased to resemble Beirut on the Charles. But not before substantial damage was done. Many faculty members became even less interested in teaching than usual. The best teacher in my entire educational career, Paul Bator, decamped to Chicago. Student leftists were emboldened and got the Harvard Law Review, unlike other major law reviews, to embrace ethnic and racial preferences, replacing a century old tradition where selections were made based on merit alone. But worst of all there was the dispiriting sense that even at the heart of a university, power rather than reason was the coin of the realm.
HLS again seems to be convulsed along a similar fault line.