NEW HAVEN, March 7 — The editors of the Yale Law Journal knew they were courting controversy when they invited scholars to the campus for a symposium on executive power.
One of the speakers will be John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped write a hotly debated memorandum on torture while he worked in the Justice Department. Other speakers will grapple with the limits of executive power in wartime, a topic that generates no shortage of opinions.
But when a controversy over the symposium, scheduled from March 24 to 26 in New Haven, erupted, it had nothing to do with executive power or Mr. Yoo. Instead, it involved a derogatory word about blacks posted online in 2002 by one of the symposium speakers and a contributor to the journal, Kiwi Camara, when he was a student at Harvard Law School.
That incident created an uproar among professors and students at Harvard. And a debate about Mr. Camara's comments, and about racism and academic freedom, has consumed students and professors at Yale Law School for the past four months.
On Monday night, Harold Hongju Koh, the law school dean, held a forum on "Racist Speech: Can We Separate the Speech From the Speaker?" Mr. Koh's office would not allow outsiders into the meeting, which attracted more than 100 people. "I hope we can emerge from this discussion united as a community, not just in our condemnation of racist speech, but in our efforts to understand the lessons of this incident and to work together toward a constructive response," Mr. Koh wrote in a letter to Yale law students.
As she left the meeting, Brittan Heller, a first-year law student, said, "I think we all felt it was a beginning, not the end of discussion." She said she objected to the decision to invite Mr. Camara to the symposium, but not to the publication of his article, which is about corporate and constitutional law and not about race.
Matthew Brewer, a co-chairman of the Black Law Students Association at Yale, wrote in an e-mail message that the organization was disappointed about the decision to invite Mr. Camara to the symposium.
"In this case, the Journal did not adequately include the perspectives of black law students during the decision-making process," he wrote.
Mr. Camara, 21, holds a research fellowship on law and economics at Stanford Law School. He was born in the Philippines, grew up in Cleveland and Hawaii, and received an undergraduate degree from Hawaii Pacific University. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2004 at 19.
In 2002, Mr. Camara posted notes from his first-year Harvard property law class online, a common practice. The notes referred to blacks in shorthand as "nigs." Another student complained about the posting, and the notes were taken down, but the issue still attracted attention on campus and in The Boston Globe.
Mr. Camara said he had "no good explanation" for why he used the derogatory language in his notes. "I'm not going to try to justify it," he said. "It's quite right it should be condemned."
He said he was not a racist and avoids using derogatory statements about black people in public and in private. He also expressed concern about the level of racism among law students and said he hoped the controversy can bring people of different races together.
Mr. Camara apologized for the posting, but the incident has dogged him, he said in a telephone interview on Monday. He said he had begun telling potential employers about the comments during his interviews, because he realized they would eventually come out and become a "public relations black eye."
At Yale, the journal editors found out about the posting when they received an anonymous e-mail message last October, after Mr. Camara had been invited to the symposium. Since then, e-mail messages have been exchanged between journal editors, and a law student set up a blog as a forum for campus debate.
A petition urging the journal to reconsider its invitation to Mr. Camara has also been circulated.
Peter Schuck, a law school professor who teaches torts and immigration law, was at Monday's meeting.
"I think minority students that spoke almost all expressed feelings of having been wounded and attacked in some group sense," he said afterward.
Some say the Harvard incident called into question Mr. Camara's character. Curtis Mahoney, the editor in chief of the law journal, said Mr. Camara was "under an obligation to show more public contrition" at the time of the incident.
Nonetheless, Mr. Mahoney, along with other members of the symposium board and top journal editors, decided to continue their plans to publish Mr. Camara's paper, which is scheduled to be in the law journal next year. They also decided, after conferring with a diverse group of students and professors, not to rescind the invitation for Mr. Camara to speak at the symposium, he said.
Mr. Mahoney called Mr. Camara's comments "reprehensible," but said he thought the journal should evaluate articles on the strength of their arguments and not the character of their authors. He said there was no consistent way for the journal to impose a character test.
"Pulling pieces is not a realistic option for us, given the policy it would commit us to," Mr. Mahoney said.
At the symposium, plans have been made for protests, which Mr. Camara said he had "expected for a while."
Still, Mr. Camara said he was happy that the comments had sparked a debate at Yale and had led to what he called "a teaching moment."
"That's a more productive thing to do than burning me in effigy," he said.