Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Replies from Milbank, Harvard Law School regarding the issues raised in the open letter

Thomas Arena, a partner at Milbank, sent a letter to several faculty signatories of the open letter noted the other day (including me), and kindly gave me permission to share the response with readers of the blog:

Dear Professors:

Your open letter, relying on allegations in press reports, erroneously suggests that Milbank sought to “censor or influence the viewpoints being expressed at student-run events” and that Milbank threatened to terminate its five-year pledge to Harvard Law School. As Harvard Law School has publicly stated, the allegations are not accurate. 


Here is what did happen. In 2012, Milbank agreed to establish the Milbank Tweed Student Conference Fund at the Law School. The Fund called for Milbank to make a substantial gift, spread out over five years, to broadly support the school’s student journals and organizations.


The Office of the Dean of Students at the Law School administered the Fund through an application process open to all student organizations and journals, and the Dean of the Law School and the Dean of Students had sole discretion to determine how to allocate monies from the Fund. Milbank had no input whatsoever into the selection of student organizations or journals to receive grants from the Fund.


For the current school year, Harvard awarded grants from the Fund to dozens of student organizations. Although Milbank was pleased to support student-run organizations and journals at the Law School, the awarding of grants from the Fund by Harvard was never intended to constitute or imply an endorsement of the viewpoints expressed by any particular organization or journal. Milbank is a diverse organization, comprised of partners and employees with varying points of views on many issues. We are extremely proud of that diversity in opinions. Consistent with that diversity, while individuals at the firm are free to express their political views, the firm does not take political positions or endorse particular political views.


In October 2015, a Harvard student organization used a grant from the Fund to sponsor an event entitled, “The Palestinian Exception to Free Speech.” We became aware of the event when the sponsoring student organization posted a Facebook page to promote it. The Facebook page contained a controversial image and included statements accusing governments of violating international law and other persons and institutions of engaging in wrongful or harmful conduct. The sponsoring group, without consulting the firm, also included a statement that the event “is brought to you by the generous support of Milbank LLP,” which created a false impression, among many who viewed it, that the firm endorsed the views expressed by the group. At the request of the Law School, the sponsoring student organization removed the statement relating to Milbank from its Facebook page about the event.


Milbank has not terminated its five-year gift or its support for the Law School, and never threatened to do so. Nor did Milbank demand that any funding previously provided to any Harvard student group be rescinded. Nor did Milbank demand that Harvard withhold funds from the student group in question or any other group.


In light of the false impression engendered by the Facebook page noted above, however, we did make the decision to look for alternative ways to support the Law School. Our motivation was solely to avoid the risk of future misimpressions that the firm endorses specific viewpoints expressed by any particular student organization or journal. The Law School assured us that it would be able to fund student conferences with other resources, and we understand that the Law School has continued to maintain the same level of funding to support student activities.


Milbank looks forward to maintaining our strong relationship with the Law School and to continuing to support its mission in other ways in the future.


Thomas A. Arena

Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP

In addition, Robb London, an Assistant Dean at Harvard Law School, also wrote, and kindly gave permission to share the following response from HLS:


On behalf of Harvard Law School, I am writing to communicate that Milbank never controlled the disbursement of grants from the Milbank Tweed Student Conference Fund at HLS, nor did it seek to “censor or influence the viewpoints being expressed at student-run events”  — contrary to the statements in the open letter. Milbank never sought to rescind grants to any student organization, and it did not threaten to terminate its five-year pledge to Harvard Law School.  


Milbank did request that the Law School use the remaining portion of the firm’s pledge for activities other than its initial purpose of supporting student organizations and journals. Milbank made this request to avoid future misimpressions that the firm supported any viewpoints expressed by student organizations or journals receiving grants from the Fund.  The Law School will henceforth fund student events and conferences from other sources, and we expect to be able to provide the same overall level of funding as before.  


Please be assured that we share your views concerning freedom of speech — a principle vital to the mission of any institution devoted to the free and frank exchange of ideas.  But the concerns raised in the open letter are premised on an inaccurate understanding of what happened in this instance. We are grateful for our exceptionally strong relationship with Milbank, and we look forward to its continued support of the mission of the Law School.


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