Who Is Regina Austin?

Who Is Regina Austin?

When then-law student Barack Obama helped lead a rally at Harvard in 1990, Prof. Derrick Bell was not the only radical professor that he was supporting. The future President of the United States was also supporting the notion that Harvard should grant lifetime tenured status to a visiting professor from the University of Pennsylvania named Regina Austin. Just as the views of Derrick Bell are a valid avenue of public inquiry that weren’t properly vetted in the 2008 election, so are the radical views of Regina Austin.

A little background is in order. A June 1990 article in the Harvard Crimson described the situation that Obama, then the President of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, intentionally stepped into:

All year, student activists have been chanting “Regina Austin now, Regina Austin now,” in the hopes that the Law School faculty would appoint Austin to a lifetime post, and make her Harvard’s first tenured minority woman law professor.

Austin, however, has preferred to maintain a low profile. She has said she approves of the activists’ goals, but has nonetheless remained detached from the actual protests, apparently in the hope that her name would not become too closely tied to the student demonstrations.

But it became difficult to remain anonymous after Weld Professor of Law Derrick A. Bell, one of the school’s three tenured Black professors, announced he was taking a leave of absence until the school offered a lifetime post to a Black woman. Immediately, all eyes turned to Austin–the only Black female professor on campus.

This article clears up one point: it is been stated incorrectly a number of times by the defenders of Bell that was “denied tenure.” However, she was a visiting professor who had only been at Harvard a short time. Nonetheless, she became the focus of activist students whose primary goal was not just “racial diversity” but the appointment of radical ideologues to permanent positions at prestigious universities.

In contrast to Derrick Bell, Ms. Austin did not appear to have enjoyed being at the center of controversy. In a 1999 interview, Prof. Austin discussed the Harvard controversy and said:

“It was like being in the middle of a family feud and having no real stake in the outcome and having your name and your persona totally stolen,” she says, “[I]t has become something I still have not been able to live beyond, around, or over, but I’ve moved on.”

None of that mattered to the politically motivated radicals inspired by Derrick Bell, who led a number of occupations of the Dean’s office in their effort to force Harvard to hire Ms. Austin. 

Despite her reluctance, Ms. Austin also had controversial views on race, according to an April 1990 article from the New York Times:

”The problem is, you can’t tell the truth around here anymore without being accused of being a racist,” said (one student), who said he had been a student in the class on torts taught by Professor Austin. He said she had shown favoritism toward minority students and women and had an unconventional approach to teaching. ”She’s teaching more sociology than law,” said (the student)..

As an example, (the student) and several other students recalled a class in which Professor Austin discussed an article she had written on the cost of emotional distress employers inflict on domestic workers. To begin the session, the students said, Professor Austin had sarcastically noted that few of them probably had any experience as domestic workers.

Another white male student, (in a group discussion) said, ”I think she’s a nice person, but not a very good teacher.” (The student) said Professor Austin had repeatedly refused to call on him when he raised his hand, a complaint that women have frequently made against male professors.

As (the student) tried to make his point, Marcia Narine, a first-year student from Miami, challenged him loudly. ”I’m coming from the perspective of a black woman, and we need black women role models,” Ms. Narine said. ”There are complaints about Regina Austin’s teaching, but no one can say she is not qualified to be appointed a full professor. They are only talking about her personality.”

For faculty members, Mr. Bell’s declaration has raised somewhat different issues than it has for the students.

”Many people feel what Derrick Bell is doing is dangerous,” said Clark Byse, a professor emeritus at the law school who still teaches a course. ”If a person is just an affirmative action appointment, chosen because they happen to be black or female and may not be fully qualified, in the end they won’t get the respect of their students.”

“To me, it’s more important to maintain Harvard’s standards of excellence than to improve the diversity of the faculty,” Mr. Byse said.

As the vetting of the President continues, the ideas of Critical Race Theory scholars such as Derrick Bell, and the link between those ideas and the Obama administration’s policies, will be one topic of debate. 

The left would like you to think that there’s nothing to see here, and that Obama’s connection to Critical Race Theory has no relevance whatsoever to the Obama facing election in 2012.

The media’s job is not to act as the gatekeepers of public discussion. As you look into the concept of Critical Race Theory, do your own research and come to your own conclusions about whether these ideas are radical, destructive, clearly outside the purview of mainstream politics–or simply not a big deal at all.