A New Law Dean

In a few days Erwin N. Griswold will leave the Dean's office in Langdell Hall to take charge of the Federal government's business before the Supreme Court as U.S. Solicitor General. And in several months President Pusey and the Fellows of the Corporation will appoint a successor to Griswold. Their choice will be every bit as significant as President Johnson's nomination of Griswold three weeks ago.

For one thing, Harvard Law School has a proud history of producing more top-notch practicing lawyers, public officials, and judges than any other school in the nation. Because of its size--over 500 students per class--the Law School's stature should not diminish much in the next few years. But if the school intends to maintain its pre-eminent position in American public life, its new Dean must try a wide variety of policies to attract the nation's best students and teachers.

During the 21 years of Griswold's Deanship, the Law School was able to do this. The Faculty has expanded sharply, and is still the nation's best, despite frequent foraging expeditions from Washington. And most Faculty members agree with their colleague, Clark Byse, who says, "I can't imagine a brighter, more enthusiastic bunch of students anywhere."

In large part, the Law School's greatness today is the result of expansion and innovation under Griswold. The physical plant and library facilities north of Kirkland St. have mushroomed. More important, the Griswold Deanship witnessed a series of steps to transform the Law School curriculum into a more flexible and more sensitive instrument to deal with living issues. Study centers in urban and international law have been set up, and Griswold has recruited some of the nation's leading Lawyers in those fields. Just as important from the students' point of view, the School will drop second year requirements, starting next year.

Thus, over the years, the Law School has remained clastic. But a mind-boggling array of serious problems must be confronted in the years immediately ahead. These problems transcend the tasks of Faculty recruitment and fund-raising. They are matters of educational policy, and law students at Harvard are vitally concerned about them. To a great extent, the next Dean will be responsible for their disposition.

From the student standpoint, the most objectionable feature of Law School is the emphasis on numerical grades--especially because of the influence they have on employers and selection for extra-curricular activities. An increasing number of students and Faculty feel that the grading system should be loosened, possibly by switching to a letter-grade scale.

Simply, these reformers are convinced that success on a series of high-pressure examinations should not be the main criterion for participation in "honorary" activities, like the Law Review. Board of Student Advisers, and Legal Aid Society. Nor do they feel that top law firms and government agencies should recruit only among exam whiz kids.

Many law students are also beginning to feel that more weight should be given to courses in legal writing and to school year jobs in legal aid offices and local agencies. Like many laymen, they think that legal training ought to get students to grapple with a lawyer's actual problems.

Although there is a good deal of quarreling over legal educational policy, almost everybody at the Law School wants smaller classes. Since the student body will probably not be reduced, the School's administration will have to decide whether to increase the size of the Faculty. And if this is not done for want of funds, the new Dean must decide whether to press for an increase in the amount of Faculty teaching time.

Such problems defy easy solution. The Faculty is bitterly divided over these questions. But the new Dean--with Faculty support--must tackle them forthrightly. One thing, however, is certain. Should the new Dean resist the notion that law students should get some sort of credit for tackling society's ills during the academic year, he will only intensify already smouldering student discontent.

It is therefore imperative that the next Dean be a man in close touch with the students, with their hopes for the law, and with their hopes for the Law School. This is not to say that he need be an advocate of de facto "student power," merely that he do what Dean Griswold refused to do--seek out a wide variety of student views and make an honest attempt at understanding them. With rare exceptions, those who meet this qualification were all trained in the law after World War II. Because of their youth, they can appreciate fully students' concern with urban decay, international chicanery, racial turmoil, and the problem of extending adequate legal service to the poor.

President Pusey and the Corporation should select one of them to lead the Law School into a future that will rival its past.