Harvard Law School (HLS) Dean Robert C. Clark, who brought stability and growth to an ideologically divided faculty while catapulting the school to new heights in fundraising, announced yesterday that he will step down at the end of the academic year.
Clark has served as dean for over 13 years and said yesterday that the time was right to step aside.
The school will kick off the four-year public phase of a massive fundraising campaign in June—an effort that Clark said a single dean should see through.
“I do not think it appropriate, in light of current norms at Harvard University, to continue my already long tenure to such a time,” Clark wrote in a letter to colleagues yesterday.
Clark wrote that June will be an appropriate moment to turn over the reins, as he will be able to provide his successor “with an enormous head start.”
“We’re concluding the ‘quiet phase’ of our campaign, and we’ll have a humdinger of a figure to report,” Clark said in an interview yesterday.
Colleagues at Harvard and at peer institutions described Clark’s contributions to the school in both healing serious rifts within the school and sketching out a direction for the school’s future.
According to several longtime HLS professors, some of Clark’s biggest accomplishments came early on in his tenure.
Clark was appointed in 1989 by then-University President Derek C. Bok. He was charged with getting around sharp ideological divides that had developed within the faculty in the 1970s and brought HLS’ faculty appointment process to a halt.
“In 1989 there was such extreme factionalism within the faculty that it was impossible to make appointments or school-wide policies,” said Beneficial Professor of Law Charles Fried.
While the faculty of law schools naturally split into various camps and are still active in debating issues of policy, HLS professors say the climate was out of hand.
Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz described a “classic left-right divide,” leading to an unhealthy, divisive atmosphere.
Professors from the various ideological camps blocked appointments of candidates from opposing camps, causing stagnation and deepening the rifts.
Yesterday, Clark recalled the situation as almost “civil war.”
According to Dershowitz, Fried and outsiders, Clark was responsible for ending at least the worst of the internecine fighting.
Through persuasion, Clark was able to restart the flow of new appointments.
“In that atmosphere he was able to push appointments through, and in doing so dilute the factionalism by bringing in new people who didn’t care about it,” Fried said.
Dershowitz said despite Clark being more associated with the conservative camp, he was able to keep his own views in check and earned a reputation as even-handed.
Clark recalled lobbying colleaguesindividually for as much as 40 hours per tenure case—tirelessly “walking the halls” during those first several years.
The net result was that the appointment of 39 new tenure-track faculty—increasing the faculty size to 81 today— and, Fried and Dershowitz agree, a significant improvement to the school’s climate.
Dershowitz said that Clark’s accomplishment in healing the faculty was tied into the other major success of the first half of his tenure—the completion in 1995 of a $183 million capital campaign.
The campaign was the biggest in HLS history, and, at the time, the largest campaign in the history of legal education.
In addition to paying for the growth of the faculty, the campaign allowed for the renovation and expansion of the school’s physical plant, improvements to the school’s financial aid and the broadening of its curriculum.
“He raised so much money that he didn’t have to make choices between the [ideological] camps,” Dershowitz said. “If it wasn’t all things for all people, then money at least didn’t provide an excuse for ideological tensions any more.”
Clark said the fundraising was physically exhausting, but agreed that it provided the foundation for many important changes.
While Clark’s soothing of faculty tensions and the improvements funded by the campaign both improved HLS as an educational institution, it is the accomplishments of the last part of his tenure, colleagues said, that most directly affect students.
“Toward the end of his deanship, he became very student-oriented,” said HLS Visiting Professor Dan Coquillette, who is writing a history of the Law School.
Clark lead the full faculty in a planning exercise that resulted in a strategic plan calling for—among other changes—a dramatic restructuring of HLS’ first-year (1L) program.
The size of 1L sections were last year cut by 60 students to 80, and students were grouped in “colleges” meant to stimulate both intellectual and social interaction.
The changes came after surveys reported persisting complaints that the 1L experience was cold and isolating.
Many of the strategic plan’s initiatives are contingent on new funds from the upcoming capital campaign, but observers both at Harvard and beyond are already calling the changes a major success.
“These are real changes that have happened,” said Dean of the J.D. Program Todd D. Rakoff ’67.
“My prediction is that the reduction in class size is going to be extremely important,” said Dean of Columbia Law School David W. Leebron.
Colleagues praised Clark’s talents as a leader and said they enjoyed working with him over the last 13 years.
“He’s an absolutely straightforward person...never duplicitous,” Rakoff said. “You always knew where you stood with him.”
“He’s been a wise and prudent dean,” said former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Jeremy R. Knowles. “We nearly always agreed on what was ultimately important for Harvard as a University.”
In a statement, University President Lawrence H. Summers thanked the longest serving of the current deans, calling Clark “a valued counselor and a trusted friend.”
Summers said he would be appointing a faculty committee to advise him in the search for Clark’s successor. All of the deans in recent memory have come from within HLS—a tradition which professors said they hoped would continue.
According to Dershowitz, Fried and others, no individual issues stand out for the next dean as they did at the beginning of Clark’s tenure.
The new dean will devote significant time early on to the forthcoming capital campaign, and will also be responsible for carrying out the strategic plan’s initiatives.
While the faculty is no longer divided along ideological lines, questions about relationships with the practice of law, internationalization and the rigor of HLS’ curriculum remain.
Recent flare-ups—primarily over military recruiting on campus and calls for a speech code—are, according to Dean of Yale Law School Tony Kronman, the current incarnation of what are perennial issues.
And according to Fried, the next dean is likely going to lie closer to the faculty’s overall sentiment when it comes to the key issue of University expansion in Allston.
Clark describes himself as cautiously optimistic about the prospects of a new Law School campus in Allston, and stresses that HLS must go along with whatever plan for expansion is best for the University as a whole.
The HLS faculty voted in 1999 to oppose a move, and Fried said that coming from the faculty, the next dean is likely to agree.
While this could cause problems for the University’s central administration—which is considering moving HLS as one of two possible scenarios—it would provide for smooth relations with the faculty on another front.
As for candidates, Dershowitz said talk has already begun, but not necessarily as might be expected.
Faculty want the most competent candidate but some fear an overly ideological, or overly intrusive dean.
“With people I’ve talked to, it’s not so much who we want for the job [as] who are the 10 people who should not be dean,” Dershowitz said.
Clark, 58, graduated from HLS in 1972. His career took him first to the Boston law firm of Ropes & Gray and then to Yale Law School, before he returned to Harvard in 1979.
Looking ahead, Clark said that after a one-year sabbatical he would return to teaching and his scholarly work on corporate law.
—Christopher M. Loomis contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Staff writer David H. Gellis can be reached at email@example.com.