Harvard law students cheer news Kavanaugh will not return – but questions remain

Officials say Kavanaugh will not be teaching in the winter term but refuse to say whether he is still an employee of the college

Among students and alumni of Harvard law school, the news that Brett Kavanaugh will not teach a class this winter was met with muted celebration – and skepticism.

On Monday night, an email sent to law students from law school officials said Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee would not return for an 11th winter term.

“Today, Judge Kavanaugh indicated he can no longer commit to teaching his course in January term 2019, so the course will not be offered,” wrote Catherine Claypoole, the associate dean and dean for academic and faculty affairs.

For weeks, students and alumni had been protesting against Kavanaugh’s employment. On 20 September, four students wrote an op-ed in the Harvard Law Record (HLR), outlining their concern that an “opportunity to learn about the supreme court might not be equally available to women because many will self-select out of a class taught by a credibly accused sexual assailant”.

The writers also linked to a discussion of Alex Kozinski, the ninth circuit court of appeals chief judge who resigned last year after multiple clerks alleged sexual misconduct. Kavanaugh clerked for Kozinski in the early 1990s and maintained a close relationship.

Students wondered if Kavanaugh was exempt from any investigative process on the part of the school, asking: “Is a relationship with powerful jurists more important to Harvard law school than the concerns of its students?”

A spokeswoman, Michelle Deakin, said the school would not comment on whether Kavanaugh made the decision to withdraw or if the law school had discussed student and alumni concerns in communications with his office. Questions about whether Kavanaugh remains employed by the college went unanswered.

Kavanaugh was hired in 2009 by then dean Elena Kagan – who was herself appointed to the supreme court the next year – and became the Samuel Williston lecturer on law. In the forthcoming winter session, he was due to teach ‘The Supreme Court Since 2005’.

According to a financial disclosure report from 2017, in that year Kavanaugh made $27,490 for nine days of teaching. He was part of the school’s bicentennial celebration in October 2017.

Last Thursday, Kavanaugh testified to the Senate judiciary committee after one of his three accusers, Dr Christine Blasey Ford, had done the same.

On Friday, the White House tasked the FBI with carrying out a limited investigation into the allegations against Kavanaugh, after the Republican senator Jeff Flake suggested he would not otherwise support the nominee.

Kavanaugh has denied all allegations against him.

Vail Kohnert-Yount and Jake Meiseles were two of the students who wrote the HLR op-ed, which was published before the Senate hearing. On Monday, Kohnert-Yount was at an event when the administration’s message came through. A cheer rang out, she said.

Kohnert-Yount, a second-year student who said she had experienced sexual assault, told the Guardian: “The allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh were credible and we didn’t think he was fit to teach here. His testimony last week made it seem like he’s unfit to teach anywhere.”

Any “credible allegations of sexual assault” against a faculty member should be investigated, she said, adding: “If the law school can’t take a stance on this issue, then we think they’re complicit.”

Both students said transparency and process were “not partisan issues”.

“It really is about this institution putting into practice what they teach us,” said Meiseles. “The importance of process. We want HLS to say process is not just academic. We want process to decide who sits on the supreme court.”

They both said it was “striking” that Harvard did not release a public statement on Kavanaugh while Yale law school dean Heather Gerken called for an investigation of the Yale graduate.

Other students had urged the university to bar Kavanaugh from teaching until the FBI investigation is finished.

A petition urging Harvard dean John Manning to rescind Kavanaugh’s employment was launched by alumni Jessica Corsi and Mariel Goetz. By Tuesday it had been signed more than 900 times. It called Kavanaugh’s responses to senators “belligerent” and said “he has demonstrated partisanship unprecedented by a supreme court nominee, an explosive temperament, and a worrisome lack of respect for female senators”.

Corsi, a law professor at Brunel University in London, said she found the Monday night email to students “problematic”.

“It gives no clear message of whether he is still an employee,” she said. “The law school needs to make a clear, unequivocal statement that they will not employ Judge Kavanaugh.”


Sarah Betancourt in Boston

The GuardianTramp

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