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Harvard Law School is considering a ban on offensive speech after a series of racially charged incidents, raising fears that the rules will inhibit the kind of sharp-edged intellectual combat so famously depicted in the movie "The Paper Chase."

In the meantime, the school is also offering first-year students a new course to help them "manage difficult conversations" and learn how to speak with sensitivity on touchy issues such as race and gender.

The speech-code proposal has stirred an intense internal debate about the commitment to freedom of expression at a school whose illustrious alumni have helped define the nation's free speech rights. Some are wondering whether a campus renowned for its bare-knuckled, confrontational style of teaching is getting a little touchy-feely.

"What I do find amazing is that it should be considered at a law school, any law school, because one thing that law schools do is study the Constitution and these codes are clearly in violation of the First Amendment," said Harvey Silverglate, a Harvard Law graduate and civil liberties litigator.

Members of the Black Law Students Association, which called for the policy, say it is possible to curb chronically offensive behavior without infringing on the First Amendment.

The Committee on Healthy Diversity -- made up of six faculty, six students and three law school staff members -- will make its recommendations in the spring. Any code would be subject to approval by the full faculty.

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