Harvard Law Students Have Mixed Memories Of Kagan 02:02

This article is more than 10 years old.

Now a Washington, D.C., lawyer, Katie Durick graduated from Harvard Law School last year, where she took Elena Kagan's Administrative Law class. Durick says Kagan had only one requirement: that students come to class prepared. Two months into the class, Kagan had yet to call on Durick, so the student knew her number was coming up.

Then Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan at the opening of the school's ice skating rink in Cambridge on Jan. 21, 2004. (AP/Harvard)
Then Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan at the opening of the school's ice skating rink in Cambridge on Jan. 21, 2004. (AP/Harvard)

"All of my friends were going out," Durick said, "and I was just totally on the fence of whether or not to go celebrate Halloween, and I couldn't decide what to do, and I just had this feeling that the next morning, at 8 a.m., I would be called on. So much to my chagrin, I stayed in that night, and read the case over and over, and sure enough, the next morning, 8 a.m., I heard the fateful words, 'Miss Durick?' and I knew that I had made the right decision."

One of Durick's classmates, Joel Pollak, has made the decision to run as a Republican candidate for Congress in Skokie, Ill. At Harvard Law, he often spoke with Kagan. He disagreed with her decision to send e-mails to the school community when the military appeared on campus to recruit. The e-mails disclosed her distress over the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Pollak says there were law firms being sued by their employees for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation who were recruiting at the law school.

"And yet we didn't get alerts when these private law firms showed up on campus," Pollack said. "We only got alerts when the military showed up on campus, so I thought it was unfair to the military and the campus should have been welcoming, and she disagreed, but we disagreed very cordially, and although I disagreed with her, I found her very open to alternative points of view."

Kagan was committed to making students feel like Harvard Law School was a friendly place. She brought in an ice skating rink, free coffee and hot chocolate and happy hour. She pushed for financial support for students who wanted to go into public service.

Listen: Harvard Law Professor
Carol Steiker On Kagan

Diane Lucas, now a New York lawyer, welcomed these changes. But she was not so happy with Kagan's reaction to the Harvard Law School parody. It's a skit in which students roast other students.

"It was blatantly sexist and racist," Lucas said. "They depicted a number of women of color in the play, and one woman who is African-American, very intelligent, very well-spoken, they depicted her as being a ghetto girl from the 'hood' and they made her talk in ebonics and made it so that you could hardly understand what she was saying."

Lucas said another African-American woman was depicted as promiscuous, and a Latina woman who in reality spoke English with an American accent was depicted as speaking no English. She said several students walked out.

But Lucas says when she and other students asked Kagan to issue a formal apology, set up diversity training and hire a diversity director, Kagan refused. Kagan defended the parody as students' freedom of speech. From that, Lucas concluded that Kagan shirked her responsibility to make Harvard Law School a more racially sensitive place.

This program aired on May 10, 2010.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.