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Harvard law professor steps aside following racial flap

By THEO EMERY, Associated Press
BOSTON (April 22, 2002 11:52 p.m. EDT) – A Harvard Law School professor has agreed to temporarily stop teaching a class that has become the center of a controversy sparked by a racial slur that appeared on the Internet, a university official said Monday.

Professor Charles R. Nesson will continue to attend the class, but for the rest of the semester it will be taught by two colleagues, said Todd Rakoff, dean of the doctor of laws program.

The professor’s decision caps a tumultuous series of events sparked by the Internet posting, including a student walkout.

Notes from one of Nesson’s first-year tort law classes, posted last month by a student, contained the word “nig.” The word was in the student’s summary of a property case involving restrictive racial covenant.

Another student, Michelle Simpson, complained to the administration about the posting and on April 4 received an e-mail that read in part: “If you, as a race, want to prove that you do not deserve to be called by that word, work hard and you will be recognized.”

The e-mail was from one of Simpson’s classmates, who later apologized.

The e-mail sparked a classroom discussion during which Nesson offered to hold a mock trial and “represent” the classmate who made the comment.

The back-and-forth was then reprinted on an anonymous flier with a crudely drawn swastika on it. The flier was stuffed into about 80 student mailboxes.

The law school administration and university President Lawrence Summers have condemned the incidents. But protests have continued, including a walkout by about 400 students at the law school on April 15.

Nesson has agreed to step aside because he believed he “could do more for his students this way,” Rakoff said.

The professor declined to comment Monday.

Simpson said she hopes the administration will be more aggressive in preventing similar incidents. Rakoff said the school is setting up workshops on multiculturalism for professors, along with sessions for new students on negotiating “difficult conversations.”

Christmas morning, 2005. Got up and went for coffee, time to sit and think. Becca last night sat across from me at our kitchen table, Fern on my left, Wayne standing, back against the counter. She told me she thought i had gone crazy. Fern recalled how they tried to hold me back. I wish they would do a group blog with me. I guess I’m starting one. They want me to stop rushing, they, all the people who love me. I want a process to slow me down, generate my message in a structure that lets adjustments be made before it goes public. Public, meaning that it becomes fodder to feed tongues that wag and put down, ridicule, dismiss.

Reputation. It just occurred to me that I have left it out of my Evidence lecture line up. I wonder why. I could not remember Michelle Simpsons’s name, had to google to find it, and even then could not remember the name of grace, the story i have to tell. That was Becca’s challenge to me last night. She says i can’t do it, tell her story. I can’t do it because i am white and Grace is black, like different sides of the necker cube.

I take Alex Lee as my teacher. I’ve been reading her journal of her few days in Jamaica, totally admiring her remarkable ability just to let it flow. I’d love just to do the same here. Blog. Let it flow. She calls me poppa, gave me the name. I like it.

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