Harvard Law School, in abject surrender to student activists, is about to change its escutcheon because its design was derived from that of Isaac Royall, Jr., who endowed the first chair at the school. Royall’s father made the family fortune from slave plantations in the West Indies and Massachusetts, a fortune that was therefore tainted (as Balzac said that all great fortunes are).
Many, if not most, law schools proclaim that they will advance “social justice.” My own law school recently pledged to use part of the generous 100 million dollar gift from the Pritzkers to do just that. Generally the pursuit of such justice is done through clinics, which represent clients, but have larger objectives in their choice of representation, such as ending the death penalty, protecting rent control, or increasing environmental regulation.
A commitment to social justice creates some tensions with the ideal of a university as a place of open inquiry. First, clinics are enterprises of political action. But the essence of a university is the production of ideas, and political aims are not easily made compatible with purely intellectual ones. Politics, including the politics of litigation, requires one to take positions with a view to success. The university, in contrast, prizes ideas that are novel, coherent and logically consistent, regardless of the immediate real world impact.
Beyond this abstract tension, the pursuit of a particular vision of justice can make it harder for research faculty to pursue opposing viewpoints.