Law School Dean Search a Mystery for Curious Faculty
Kagan, Mnookin rumored among professors to be top internal candidates for post
Certain names continue to crop up as likely candidates, or even front-runners.
Professors speculate that Professor of Law Elena Kagan may end up taking the prize. Several also say they’ve heard that Williston Professor of Law Robert H. Mnookin is an internal candidate receiving strong consideration.
Stanford Law Dean and former HLS professor Kathleen B. Sullivan and Kennedy School Government Professor Frederick Schauer are mentioned as leading candidates beyond HLS.
And a number of professors say they’ve heard that University President Lawrence H. Summers is tossing around unconventional names—first Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and former Harvard General Counsel Margaret H. Marshall, and then, more recently, high-profile Seventh Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner.
But ultimately, actual involvement in the search is limited to a faculty advisory committee and they aren’t talking—even to their colleagues.
All Quiet on the North Yard Front
The progress at HLS follows much the same pattern of the three other dean searches Summers has conducted since he arrived a year and a half ago. The outgoing dean steps down and Summers hand-picks an advisory committee. An e-mail account—email@example.com in this latest case—is created to solicit feedback. Several months pass without much talk, and then with little warning, a new dean is announced.
But for an opinionated and often contentious faculty, this process is a substancial change.
Thirteen years ago, HLS professors battled with then-President Derek C. Bok over the appointment of a search committee, claiming the faculty’s right to choose their own dean. That stand-off ended with Bok officially appointing a committee that matched the one the faculty had originally elected.
Given deep divisions that had paralyzed the school, there was no dearth of strong opinions among the faculty.
But while the faculty tangled with Summers this fall over the appointment of a selection committee, he had his way, and the search has proceeded relatively quietly since.
The result has been that most professors—except for the nine HLS professors on the advisory committee—have been left in the dark.
“I think Summers keeps this pretty close to the vest, as does the search committee,” Professor of Law William J. Stuntz says.
“I doubt that anyone besides them really knows who the top candidates are,” he says. “I’m sure Summers has a model in mind, but who knows what it is.”
Through the Grapevine
Still, even without direct knowledge, faculty say that several professors are obvious candidates.
“As far as the faculty is concerned, I would say that Kagan is first in line, and then Mnookin,” said Peter L. Murray, a visiting professor at HLS for the past 12 years.
Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz and two other senior HLS professors agreed that Kagan and Mnookin were probably the top internal candidates.
Kagan has gained visibility for heading up a Law School committee studying campus expansion in the North Yard and Allston. Her committee’s report, which was presented to the Harvard Corporation this winter, has been lauded by those close to Summers for its even-handedness in the face of HLS faculty’s strong opposition to a move to Allston.
Kagan has gained respect among professors as well.
“She has done a very impressive job with reconciling and presenting faculty concerns about Allston in this report,” Murray says. “She has impressed both the Law School faculty and President Summers with her ability to handle ticklish administrative matters.”
Kagan, who declined to comment for this story, shares a common history with Summers. Each took time away from academia in the 1990s to work in the Clinton administration—he as the number-two at the Treasury Department, she as a top domestic policy advisor. Appointed a visiting professor in 1999, Kagan is relatively new to the faculty, and doesn’t carry very much baggage.
“Kagan is young and dynamic,” Murray says. “But Mnookin is an older faculty member, and he’s certainly among the leading names out there.”
As a well respected expert in negotiation law, Mnookin is particularly qualified to lead a contentious faculty, Murray says.
Several professors, including Dershowitz, say that Professor of Law Martha L. Minow remains a name to watch. Though she is on the search committee, Dershowitz says that if she wanted the deanship, she would have a good shot.
Mnookin and Minow could not be reached for comment.
Sullivan, who left HLS for the Stanford Law School deanship a decade ago, is said to be a leading external candidate. Sullivan spoke at HLS on Tuesday evening as part of a symposium on privatization and public values.
Schauer, from the Kennedy School, is another candidate who brings administrative experience to the table.
The former academic dean at the School of Government, Schauer is currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
With a strong background in constitutional law and the legal aspects of policymaking, he formerly worked as a law professor at the University of Michigan. He was chair of the Association of American Law Schools and vice president of the American Society for Political and Legal Philosophy.
One HLS faculty member says that Schauer’s name was mentioned very early on in the dean search.
“He is a natural candidate,” the professor says. “His wife is on the Law School faculty and he has great administrative experience from working as a dean at the Kennedy School.” “He seems much more plausible than most outside candidates that I have heard about because he is both familiar with the University and the Law School and he already knows the major players around here,” another professor says.
Dershowitz says that “Schauer is a definite possibility.”
Schauer was traveling in New York City and could not be reached for comment.
Among professors contacted for this story, reaction to these mainstream names was relatively positive.
But one rumored candidate sparked less tempered responses.
A number of professors say they heard Summers was interested in courting the controversial judge and self-proclaimed public intellectual, Posner.
“I’ve heard Judge Posner’s name around campus,” Murray says. “But we would all be surprised if he was even offered the deanship.”
“Judge Posner would be a disaster as dean of Harvard Law School,” one HLS professor says. “He is a lightning rod. The only good thing that would come out of him being dean would be that it would get him out of the court, and he would do less damage as a dean than as a judge.”
Posner would not confirm or deny whether he has been contacted about the dean search, though he, too, was at the Law School last week.
He did say, however, that he was uninterested in the job.
“In any case, I have never seriously considered the position because I would never quit my judgeship for it,” Posner says.
One official speculated that if Summers had indeed courted Posner, it was as an attempt to push others to think outside the box. He is the second sitting judge, after Marshall, to be mentioned as a candidate.
Although no formal deadline has been set for the completion of the search, HLS faculty say they think the end is in sight.
“The feeling around the Law School is that the shoe may drop any day now,” one HLS professor says. “It is getting awfully late—and we have a capital campaign that needs to start in June.”
“Spring break was around the time that everyone envisioned this problem getting resolved,” he adds.
The Students Cry
While the faculty has remained relatively quiet thus far, complaints by students that their voices are not being heard are growing louder.
More than 200 students packed a meeting with Summers at HLS Tuesday night, bringing concerns ranging from diversity to quality of student life.
Many criticized current HLS Dean Robert C. Clark for a lack of attention to student concerns.
A few dozen rallied outside of Austin Hall beforehand, calling for greater diversity—in the student body, ranks of the faculty and perhaps in the form of the new dean.
Many students complained that they lacked a formal say in the dean selection.
Summers responded that the deanship was not up for negotiation.
A survey co-authored by an HLS student found that 47.5 percent of second-and third-year law students ranked student concerns as their top priority for the new dean. Charisma, courage, and committment to public interest law and diversity were also popular answers.
“I think our survey primarily reflects the students’ unhappiness with the administration,” third-year student Michael J. Passante says.
“You look at people at Stanford or Yale Law Schools and they are happier—the future dean could do a lot to decrease class sizes and bureacracy to improve quality of student life.”
“Clark is a very nice man, but he isn’t particularly forceful or responsive to student concerns about quality of life or diversity,” Passante says.
—Staff Writer Lauren A.E. Schuker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org