Alum Gives $25M To Build Law Center

Wasserstein family gift is second largest in school history

The Wasserstein family donated $25 million to Harvard Law School for the construction of a major building that will include an academic center, student center, and space for clinics, the school announced yesterday. It is the second-largest donation ever received by the school.

The donation gives a boost to both the Law School’s $400 million capital campaign—bringing the total raised to $342 million—and the construction of the new 250,000 square-foot facility, two of Dean Elena Kagan’s top priorities.

“This new gift will have a dramatic and long-lasting impact on the Law School, and particularly on the educational experience of our students,” Kagan said in a statement.

The Wassersteins are long time donors to both the Law School and Harvard Business School. The family’s most prominent member, Lazard CEO Bruce J. Wasserstein, is an alumnus of both institutions and has been a major benefactor of HLS—he was one of 11 alumni who gave a gift totalling $5.1 million to the school in 2003.

In addition, the Wasserstein family has endowed both a professorship and public interest law fellowship, both of which are named after Bruce’s father, Morris, who was a textile executive.

“These kinds of gifts don’t happen unless there is a long history and friendship,” Kagan said in a phone interview yesterday.

Bruce Wasserstein—who sits on both the Dean’s Advisory Board and the executive committee of the capital campaign—is also a close friend of former Law School Dean Robert C. Clark. Clark has served on the boards of several companies controlled by Wasserstein, including Lazard, Maybelline, and American Lawyer Media Holdings. Three of Wasserstein’s children also attended Harvard College.

“When I saw [the donation] finalized, I felt an enormous surge of exhilaration and gratitude,” Clark said. “To have someone step up in such a big way like that has got to exert a profound influence on many other alums. Leadership really matters.”

The Wassersteins’ gift is the second-largest donation after a $30 million gift by Finn M. W. Caspersen, the chair of the current capital campaign, according to school spokesman Michael A. Armini.

While donors have traditionally given money to establish professorships and fellowships, there have been few instances where major donations have been made for the construction of new facilities, Clark said. The last time it happened was in 1995, when Gustave M. and Rita E. Hauser donated $13 million for the creation of Hauser Hall—a classroom and faculty building.

“It’s hard to get donations for building these days,” Kagan said, adding that talks with Bruce Wasserstein began as early as last year. “Bruce understood that and wanted to respond to where we really need help.”

Work will begin on the new facility—slated to be completed in 2011—this summer. The Everett Street parking garage, a structure Kagan has called one of the biggest eye sores on the Law School’s campus, will be destroyed. The project will also involve demolishing Wyeth Hall, a dormitory, moving two houses further up Massachusetts Avenue, and tearing down the eastern lobe of Pound Hall to create a courtyard between the new building and Harkness Commons.

The new center will have three wings. The academic wing will be named Wasserstein Hall. There will also be a new student center and a clinical center.

“We envision that basic first-year courses, as well as many upper-level classes and seminars, will be held there,” Story Professor of Law Daniel J. Meltzer ’72, who is also the Vice Dean for Physical Planning, said. “It will become the academic center, the pedagogical center of the Law School.”

—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at pbhayani@fas.harvard.edu
—Staff writer Kevin Zhou can be reached at kzhou@fas.harvard.edu.