During her third and final year at Harvard Law School, first lady Michelle Obama — then named Michelle Robinson — penned an article for the newsletter of Harvard’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA), arguing that Harvard and its students were perpetuating “racist and sexist stereotypes” by not intentionally hiring minority and female law professors on the basis of their sex or skin color.
The 1988 essay, titled “Minority and Women Law Professors: A Comparison of Teaching Styles,” ran in a special edition of the BLSA Memo. The future first lady justified her demands for more black and female law school faculty by attacking the “traditional model,” in which law students were educated through the Socratic method.
She also opposed the traditional meritocratic hiring principle, where professors with better legal pedigrees were more often hired, arguing that it limited the success of women and blacks.
“The faculty’s decision to distrust and ignore non-traditional qualities in choosing and tenuring law professors merely reinforces racist and sexist stereotypes,” Mrs. Obama wrote, “which, in turn, serve to legitimize students’ tendencies to distrust certain types of teaching that do not resemble the traditional images.”
In particular, she condemned the Harvard law professor ideal made famous in John Osborn’s 1970 book “The Paper Chase” and Scott Turow’s 1977 autobiographical novel “One-L,” for promoting the view that law school faculty should be “cold, callous, domineering, old, white men who took pleasure in engaging their students in humiliating and often brutal discourse.” She faulted her fellow students for being “racist” and “sexist” and buying into that particular “image” of a proper law school education.
Instead, she praised the teaching of several professors who didn’t use the Socratic method, including the far-left academics Martha Minow and Charles Ogletree. Minow’s father, Newton Minow, later recruited Michelle and Barack Obama to Sidley Austin, the Chicago law firm where the two met. Ogletree, who mentored both Michelle and Barack at Harvard, admitted during the 2008 election that he had concealed a videotape of Obama praising “critical race theory” architect Derrick Bell.
Michelle also gushed praise for critical race theory itself — the view that law is an instrument of the powerful against the powerless, rather than an effort to seek justice.
“Now, unlike before, students are being made to see how issues of class, race, and sex are relevant to questions of law,” she wrote. These issues, she said, were “being presented by people who possess the enthusiasm, sensitivity, and ingenuity necessary to bring excitement back into the classroom.”
Her choice of language bore clear similarities to the “empathy” test Barack Obama promised to use when deciding on nominees for the judiciary. If the advances of the critical race movement were stymied, Michelle worried, this “new breed of law professors will be systematically excluded” from Harvard.
During the final weeks before she received her Harvard law degree, Mrs. Obama participated in a sit-in protest along with about 50 other BLSA members. In what The New York Times called an “occupation,” the future lawyers stormed the office of Dean James Vorenberg on May 10, 1988 with a list of 12 demands.
Carrying signs demanding an “end to racism,” they occupied the dean’s office for 24 hours and demanded that Harvard Law School hire 20 female or minority professors in the next four years as tenured, or tenure-track, professors. Seven of those professors, they insisted, must be black — and four of those seven female.
They also demanded tenure for Ogletree and a deanship for Bell, and dictated a new plan for curriculum diversity that would include a required course on racial issues.
During the Obama presidency, the same Mrs. Obama has reportedly helped the president pick appointees to the federal courts. Along with Cassandra Butts — a former White House deputy counsel and another Derrick Bell disciple — the first lady reportedly helped Obama decide on the “wise Latina” Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court nominee.
President Obama also named Robert Wilkins, the president of the Harvard BLSA in 1988 and organizer of the occupation of the dean’s office, to a federal circuit judgeship in the District of Columbia.
“Diversity in this country is a good thing,” Mrs. Obama told MSNBC when asked about Sotomayor, “whether it’s gender or race or socio-economic background or religion. You know, that’s the world I come from.”