Law School Dean Search a Mystery for Curious Faculty

Kagan, Mnookin rumored among professors to be top internal candidates for post

A tight-lipped search for the new dean of Harvard Law School (HLS) has left most faculty with no direct knowledge of who the search is focusing on, or even when a final decision will come.

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— 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