IN REMEMBRANCE: 12-20-2015

WALTER J. LEONARD, PIONEER OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN HARVARD ADMISSIONS

Walter J. Leonard, left, in 2011 with Derek C. Bok, a former president of Harvard University. Credit Martha Stewart

 
  • Walter J. Leonard, the chief architect of an admissions process at Harvard that has been emulated across the United States, opening colleges and universities to more women and minorities, died on Dec. 8 in Kensington, Md. He was 86.
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, his wife, Betty, said.
The affirmative action formula that Dr. Leonard designed for Harvard allowed recruiters to take into account race and ethnicity, on a case-by-case basis, as one of many factors to consider as they sought to assemble a diverse student body.
Martha L. Minow, the Harvard Law School dean, said the plan “had a ripple effect across the nation” as other institutions, facing demands for greater diversity, adopted similar ones of their own.
The Harvard formula has passed four decades of constitutional muster, though the United States Supreme Court, in its current term, is revisiting rulings on similar policies in a case involving the University of Texas.
Even before he designed the admissions policy, Dr. Leonard was aggressively recruiting more diverse applicants to Harvard Law School. Last week, the school’s bulletin, Harvard Law Today, credited him with building “the foundation for the education of more minority and women lawyers than almost any other administrator in the United States.”
Later, as president of Fisk University in Nashville for seven years, Dr. Leonard raised $12 million to restore a measure of fiscal stability to that historically black institution and even offered his $1.5 million personal life insurance policy as collateral for a loan to keep Fisk from closing.
Dr. Leonard became assistant dean and assistant director of admissions of Harvard Law School in 1969, when Derek C. Bok was dean. By 1971, when Dr. Bok became president of Harvard and enlisted Dr. Leonard as his special assistant, the number of black, female and -Latino students in the law school had substantially risen.
“The dramatic increase must be credited to Leonard’s persistent recruiting efforts,” The Harvard Crimson later wrote.
The admissions policy Dr. Leonard devised for the wider university, in collaboration with other Harvard educators, came in response to complaints from Washington that the existing program at Harvard no longer met minimum federal standards. At the time, the university employed neither a black athletic trainer for its teams nor a black doctor in its clinic.
The new formula included race or ethnicity as a plus, among other factors, on an individual application for admission.
In 1978 the Supreme Court, upholding race as one factor that could be considered in college admissions in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, referred approvingly to what it called the Harvard plan, saying it weighed “all pertinent elements of diversity” in considering each applicant.
“The Harvard model provides a standard,” Prof. Ronald Dworkin of the New York University School of Law wrote in an essay for the book “The Affirmative Action Debate” (2002). “If the admissions officers of other universities are satisfied that their plan is like the Harvard plan in all pertinent respects, they can proceed in confidence.”
That view, however, has been challenged. The Supreme Court is hearing a suit filed by a white woman against the University of Texas. A separate federal lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a Chinese-American student who was denied admission and who maintains that the Harvard plan originally discriminated against Jewish applicants who had scored high on admissions tests, and that it now handicaps Asian-Americans.
Walter Jewell Leonard was born in Alma, Ga., the state’s blueberry capital, on Oct. 3, 1929. His father, Francis, was a railroad worker. His mother, the former Rachel Kirkland, was a midwife.
He enlisted in the Coast Guard during World War II at age 15 and went on to study at historically black institutions: Morehouse College, in Atlanta; what are now Savannah State University and Clark Atlanta University, where he attended the graduate school of business; and Howard University, in Washington, where he earned a degree from the law school in his mid-30s. He also received a certificate in executive management from the Harvard Business School and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
While working his way through night school in Washington as a waiter, Dr. Leonard recalled, he happened upon a white police officer beating a black man and reported the encounter to the authorities.
“Any black person who witnessed such a scene in those days and failed to walk quietly away endangered himself,” the civil rights lawyer Dovey Johnson Roundtree wrote in her memoir, “Justice Older Than the Law” (with Katie McCabe, 2009). “Yet Walter Leonard had chosen to come forward.”
She added: “He could not do otherwise, stunning us with his dignity and his command of the facts. A wrong had been done, he said, and without the testimony of an eyewitness, an innocent black man would be jailed, and undoubtedly convicted of a crime he’d never committed.”
The case against the man collapsed.
Dr. Leonard is survived by his wife, the former Betty Singleton, and a daughter, Angela M. Leonard.
Dr. Leonard was assistant dean of Howard University School of Law when he left for Harvard. At Harvard he was chairman of the committee that created the university’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research.
Harvard Law Today quoted Dr. Bok as saying that Dr. Leonard had helped the university achieve diversity not only in its student body but also on its faculty, and even in the construction crews that built Pound Hall at the law school — all “without violating important academic principles or agreeing to steps that would ultimately work to the disadvantage of everyone, including the minority students themselves.”
Moving to Fisk University in 1976, Dr. Leonard inherited a nearly bankrupt institution; the gas company had even shut off the heat because of overdue bills. He found himself wrestling with the trustees over fund-raising. In one instance he objected to selling off the university’s art collection; in another he refused to rescind a speaking invitation to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, who some trustees feared would alienate white donors.
After Dr. Leonard resigned, in 1983, he wrote prolifically, taught and served on numerous boards.
Dr. Leonard’s colleagues credited the endurance of Harvard’s affirmative action plan to his ability to navigate the demands of student civil rights protesters for immediate action with the practicalities of running a university.
“I’m not a preacher of patience,” he once said. “I’m highly impatient myself. On the other hand, I’m also a realist.”
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ROSE SIGGINS, ACTRESS ON ‘AMERICAN HORROR STORY’
Ms. Siggins in 2014. Credit Kevin Winter/Getty Images
  • Rose Siggins, the legless actress seen on the television series “American Horror Story,” died on Saturday in Denver. She was 43. The show announced her death on its Facebook page. James Mullen, one of Ms. Siggins’s agents, confirmed the death to The Associated Press. No cause was specified.
Ms. Siggins played a character known as Legless Suzi on the fourth season of the show, “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” The series, which is seen on the FX network and had its premiere in 2011, features a self-contained story each season, with a number of actors returning in different roles from one season to the next. “American Horror Story: Freak Show” followed the lives of a troupe of sideshow performers in 1950s Florida.
On her website, Ms. Siggins wrote that she was born with a rare genetic disorder known as sacral agenesis, as a result of which “my legs were severely deformed, with the feet pointing in opposite directions.”
The condition causes abnormal fetal development of the lower spine. Her parents decided to have her legs amputated, and, she wrote, she went on to have a normal childhood, get married and have two children: a son, Luke, and a daughter, Shelby Cecilia. According to Ms. Siggins, she is the only person with sacral agenesis to have carried and given birth to a baby who was not disabled.
In addition to her children, survivors include her husband, Dave Siggins.
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EVELYN LIEBERMAN, AIDE WHO MOVED LEWINSKY FROM WHITE HOUSE
Evelyn Lieberman in 1996. Credit Greg Gibson/Associated Press
  • Evelyn Lieberman, who as the first woman to serve as deputy chief of staff to a president grew concerned about the behavior of the junior aide Monica S. Lewinsky around Bill Clinton and banished her to a job outside the White House, died on Saturday in Washington. She was 71.
Her husband, Edward, said the cause was pancreatic cancer.
A Brooklyn-born former teacher, Ms. Lieberman also directed the Voice of America and was the first person to serve as under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
“Evelyn,” President Clinton said at her swearing-in at the Voice of America in late 1996, “has a special talent for cutting to the chase and getting to truth.”
Ms. Lieberman had a long, sometimes trailblazing résumé in and out of government. Besides serving as deputy chief of staff under Mr. Clinton, she was public affairs director for the National Urban Coalition and the Children’s Defense Fund, where she met Hillary Clinton, a board member; press secretary to Joseph R. Biden Jr., now the vice president, when he was a senator from Delaware; assistant to Mrs. Clinton’s White House chief of staff; chief operating officer of Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign; and, most recently, chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution.

Ms. Lieberman was most recently the chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution. Credit Tamara Hoffer

Colleagues remembered her as a mentor, particularly to women making their way in a male-dominated Washington — one who could provide succor in the form of chicken soup or the discipline of a drill sergeant.
Working mostly behind the scenes, Ms. Lieberman had perhaps her most visible moment in the capital during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, which culminated in the president’s impeachment in the House of Representatives in 1998. He was accused of lying under oath about his sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, who was in her early 20s when she worked at the White House. The Senate voted not to convict.
In April 1996, some months after the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship had begun but nearly two years before the scandal broke, Ms. Lieberman, then deputy for operations to the chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, transferred Ms. Lewinsky, a onetime intern, to the Pentagon from her job in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.
According to the report issued by Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel in the case, Ms. Lieberman testified before a special grand jury on Jan. 30, 1998, that Ms. Lewinsky had displayed “immature and inappropriate behavior,” was “spending too much time around the West Wing,” and was “always someplace she shouldn’t be.”
“I decided to get rid of her” because of “the appearance that it was creating,” the Starr report quoted Ms. Lieberman as saying.
She said she had heard no rumors linking the president and Ms. Lewinsky, but acknowledged that Mr. Clinton “was vulnerable to these kind of rumors” and that this vulnerability was a reason for the transfer.
After testifying, Ms. Lieberman said publicly: “I want to make one point clear. I know of no improper relationship between the president, Monica Lewinsky or anyone else, for that matter.”
Ms. Lieberman testified to the Starr grand jury that after she transferred Ms. Lewinsky, she had a conversation with Mr. Clinton in which he said he had received a phone call about “an intern you fired.”
“She was evidently very upset about it,” Ms. Lieberman recalled. “He said, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Who fired her?’ I said, ‘I did.’ And he said, ‘Oh, O.K.’ ”
Marcia Lewis, Ms. Lewinsky’s mother, said she had also confronted Ms. Lieberman about the transfer. She testified that Ms. Lieberman had responded by “saying something about Monica being cursed because she’s so beautiful.” She said she had surmised that Ms. Lieberman “would want to have pretty women moved out” to protect the president.
Evelyn Lieberman was born Evelyn May Simonowitz on July 9, 1944, the daughter of Jack Simonowitz and the former Rose Cohen. Her parents separated when she was a child.
She graduated from Buffalo State College, part of the State University of New York, with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1966, taught on Long Island, and moved with her first husband to Washington.
They divorced.
In addition to her second husband, she is survived by a brother, Haskel Simonowitz.
In an interview with the Buffalo State alumni magazine last winter, Ms. Lieberman described her work with the Children’s Defense Fund and its founder, Marian Wright Edelman, as transformative.
“Here’s this poor girl from Brooklyn who has had extraordinary opportunities and great encouragement from others,” Ms. Lieberman recalled. “And I believe it’s my responsibility to provide that same encouragement to others, especially young women. Marian Edelman said that ‘service is the rent we pay for living.’ I think that says it all.”

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