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Proceeding from there to an even broader indictment, the crits have borrowed from philosophical realms outside legal thought, including structuralism, semiotics and the "Frankfurt school" of such neo-Marxist theorists as Jürgen Habermas and Theodor Adorno. They propose that law is no more than a means by which unjust power relations are dressed in the costume of eternal truths. Some of the C.L.S. adherents, like Kennedy, also flaunt a confrontational '60s style of incivility and antic provocation in relations with their colleagues. But at bottom, he is deadly serious. "The legalization of the rules," Kennedy inveighs, "the presentation of the rules as the consequence of a neutral, legal, analytic process, makes things that are rotten and unjust look inevitable, logical and inherently fair."
The battle may be academic, but it is far from meaningless. The institution is in the midst of a curricular reform that, if successful, would likely be imitated elsewhere. As Kennedy notes, "Harvard is the most influential law school on legal education and how the outside world perceives law." It has also been a source of much of the thinking that is being fought over, including the mainstream faculty notion that law can contribute to incremental but progressive change in American society. "So many people on either side of the debate are the personification of the ideas being challenged," says David Douglas, a graduate last spring. "It's more than an intellectual debate for them. It's a critique of their life's work." Third-Year Law Student Dan Gordon puts it more dryly: "It's hard to distinguish the personal animosities from the intellectual arguments."
Despite all the ferment among their teachers, most students have a different focus. "Everybody just wants to get a job," says Second-Year Student Sheila Maith. "I don't think anybody has a commitment to being on one side or the other as much as the faculty does." As for the bulk of the faculty, the "mushy centrist types," as one professor describes himself, they celebrate the clash of new ideas, though sometimes wearily these days. Notes Professor Laurence Tribe: "I especially disagree with the rigidity, orthodoxy and intolerance that both extremes display toward those who are not part of their camp." It may be remembered, however, that the charge of arrogant complacency was once leveled at the entire Harvard faculty. Whatever the excesses and inadequacies of the challengers on the left and right, they have at least changed that. --By Richard Lacayo. Reported by Joelle Attinger/Boston