HLS Dean Search Narrows to Four

Candidates would bring varying strengths, weaknesses to the post

A secretive search process to replace former Dean of the Law School Elena Kagan has reached the beginning of the end with no clear candidate to replace the much-loved administrator.

With the clock ticking down towards the University’s self-imposed deadline of having a successor in place by the end of the school year, the consultation process with Law School faculty, donors, and students has ended, and the installment of a new Dean is incumbent on when University President Drew G. Faust makes her decision, according to a senior Law School professor familiar with the search process, who, like other faculty members, asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of an ongoing search.

In the run-up to Kagan assuming the Deanship, she emerged as the leading candidate, along with Williston Professor of Law Robert H. Mnookin, well ahead of then-President Lawrence H. Summers’ decision. This time around, the field is more open, with a slate of seven internal candidates and, among those, three or four top candidates whom Faust is considering for the job.

The short-list includes acting Dean Howell E. Jackson and Harvard Law School Professors David J. Barron ’89, John Coates, John F. Manning ’82, Martha Minow, David B. Wilkins ’77, and Elizabeth Warren, according to the senior Law School professor familiar with the search process.

Among that list, Jackson, Manning, and Minow have risen to the top. Wilkins may also be a top candidate, but opinions among the faculty vary about whether he should be included on the list of most likely candidates. Faculty members were, however, in near unanimity in naming Jackson, Manning, and Minow as frontrunners.

Although these professors have all been considered for the position, whether they would accept an offer to serve as Dean remains unclear—assuming the position entails largely sacrificing one’s research and taking on increased hours to cope with the responsibilities of leading the Law School.

Whomever Faust ends up choosing to permanently succeed Kagan, that person faces the monumental task of not only stepping into the shoes of the most popular Law School Dean in recent memory but also managing a budget squeezed by a precipitous fall in the University endowment and making difficult decisions as to how to restructure a large, hallowed institution that just a few years ago was known for infighting among faculty and a lack of concern for student life.

Each of the top candidates brings a different set of skills and drawbacks to the deanship, and who Faust picks will ultimately depend on which priorities she deems most important for the future of the Law School and her relationship with it.

THE LOOMING BUDGET

On the list of pressing issues facing the next Dean, the budget looms large.

The University has asked the Law School to orchestrate a 10 percent cut in its budget—the magnitude of which entails some painful reshuffling of priorities, potential reorganization, and at least some job cuts.

Jackson, the acting dean, has garnered praise from his colleagues on the faculty for his leadership over the future of the school’s budgetary priorities at a tenuous time, and as a result, his stock has risen as a candidate for Dean.

“People are very confident in his ability to manage the financial situation at the law school and probably less confident in the ability of the others—not that they wouldn’t be able to,” says Law School Professor Mark V. Tushnet ’67. “Howell has demonstrated a very close knowledge of the budget and how to deal with it.”

The next Dean will begin his or her tenure with a budget designed by Jackson for fiscal year 2010. Next year’s fiscal plan includes some cuts in staff positions and student amenities but maintains its financial aid commitments and the school’s ambitious building project in the Northwest Corner of its campus, Jackson said in an interview with The Crimson in May.

Jackson, an expert in financial regulation and budget policy, brings a wealth of experience to the budgetary process through his research interests and familiarity with the school’s finances from having served as Kagan’s vice dean for the budget since 2003.

Jackson’s intimate knowledge of the responsibilities of the Dean may, however, actually lead him to shy away from accepting the job, said one senior professor.

If Faust hopes to install a Dean that can hit the ground running on the budget and continue the budgetary reforms initiated by Jackson, she may favor him as permanent Dean. Professors Manning, Minow, and Wilkins lack Jackson’s familiarity with the budget and might be unable to make progress on the budget as quickly, according to several senior professors on the faculty.

If Faust passes on Jackson, the next Dean would face a steeper learning curve in terms of mastering the budget and would require more staff support to understand the school’s finances than the budget-savvy acting Dean.

“They would have to assemble a team that would help them make the judgments that Howell [Jackson] is already in a position to make,” Tushnet says.

Manning has been commended for his work on the appointments committee—the advisory body responsible for faculty hires—that yielded several high profile faculty hires during Kagan’s tenure as Dean. But whether Manning can convert that administrative experience into managing a multi-million dollar budget remains to be seen.

Both Minow and Wilkins have administrative expertise in their own right but of a different nature than Jackson’s.

Minow worked on a key component of the Kagan legacy—helping mastermind the curricular reforms ushered in under Kagan’s tenure. That experience, faculty members say, has served as a catalyst for her candidacy, as some on the faculty say more work is necessary to make the reforms a lasting part of the student experience at the school.

Through the course of his research on the legal profession, Wilkins has managed an extensive research project that Tushnet says demands a certain level of administrative competency that should not be discounted.

But views over Wilkins are conflicting, with one faculty member expressing concern over his abilities as an administrator.

Budgetary projections will likely influence Faust’s thinking on the importance of appointing a candidate who can immediately manage the budget—if endowment managers project that spending will be constrained in the long term by disappointing endowment performance, then administrative capabilities are likely to weigh more heavily in her decision, Tushnet says.

THE VISION FACTOR

In selecting the next Dean, Faust may be searching for more intangible qualities than a demonstrated ability to manage a budget.

Installing a new dean represents Faust’s first major interaction with the Law School, and, as such, will largely determine the nature of her relationship with the school in years to come, says one professor with knowledge of the search process.

Faust has, in the past, repeatedly emphasized her commitment to interdisciplinary studies across the University’s many schools.

That may favor Minow, an interdisciplinary scholar who began her Harvard career at the Graduate School of Education and who faculty say would bring the broadest perspective to the University among the candidates for Dean.

“She has many of the qualities that made Elena Kagan such a successful dean,” says one senior faculty member. “They include an ability to reach out across the spectrum, an intense engagement with everyone’s work, deep concern for the school and its mission, a very transparent accessibility to both colleagues, students, and staff, and the capacity to excite people about the pursuit and study of law in ways that would make her an inspiring and energizing figure.”

But emulating Kagan in certain ways has not made Minow a lock for the top spot.

There is some concern among some members of the faculty—an unfounded claim in the view of others—that perhaps Minow is too affable and unwilling to say ‘no,’ a potential obstacle when having to make cuts to the budget, a process that will entail denying some programs and not others, says one faculty member.

But given her work on curricular reform, Minow would bring a clear vision to the position of Dean, again casting her in the mold of Elena Kagan, who aimed to build the faculty and end its polarization as well as to reform student life, says another faculty member.

Although Jackson has shown himself to be a capable administrator, questions remain over what direction he would take the school and what vision he would bring to the corner office in Griswold Hall.

One faculty member said he did not doubt Jackson’s ability to formulate a vision for the school but said that, at this stage, it remains unclear exactly what that vision would be.

Similarly, Manning, though described as a bright and engaging individual, has not articulated a clear vision, according to faculty members.

“To the extent that the President is interested in someone with a long-term vision, it’s not clear to me that he does have that,” Tushnet says. “It’s not clear that that is an important consideration, but if it is an important thing, then it’s an obstacle.”

And if Faust is searching for someone to be a standard bearer for the Law School, she may look to Wilkins, who is universally described as someone who loves the school and unusually willing to make sacrifices on its behalf.

“He has eagerly put aside personal priorities in order to facilitate the work of the school and its committees,” says one senior professor at the Law School. “In doing so, he has demonstrated traits of character are indispensable in a good Dean.”

Additionally, if appointed Dean, Wilkins would be the first black administrator to hold the position. Currently, Dean of the College Evelynn M. Hammonds is the only African-American leading a school at the University.

RECRUITING A CANDIDATE

But which individual ascends the Law School’s deanship may depend less on Faust’s preferences and more on who is willing to accept the post.

The faculty interviewed say that the other candidates on the short list have taken their names out of contention because they are not interested in becoming Dean, at least at this point in their careers.

Warren, who has risen to national prominence in recent months as overseer of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, seems unlikely to give up her government position to return to Cambridge in an administrative role.

“Warren might consider it if she was not so deeply involved in the TARP business, which is ultimately more important,” says one faculty member.

Barron, who is on leave from Harvard for a job in the Obama administration, also seems unlikely to leave D.C. for the Griswold office. One faculty member added that, given his youth, Barron will likely have another chance to attain the top job at the Law School.

And after a history turning down administrative posts, citing a desire to maintain her family life—a concern shared by Coates in taking his name out of consideration—Minow’s potential willingness to accept the position was cast into doubt by one professor.

Jackson expressed a desire to return to his research in an interview with The Crimson in May, and in a town hall with students early this semester quipped that he had promised his wife only six months of “this madness.”

Colleagues on the faculty were unsure of whether Manning and Wilkins would accept the post if it was offered to them.

But given colleagues’ description of Wilkins’ willingness to make sacrifices on behalf of the school, it seems unlikely that the responsibilities of the Dean’s office might dissuade him from accepting the post.

At this point, the ball is in Faust’s court, and the time frame for announcing a successor depends on when she makes a decision and recruits a candidate.

Although it is unlikely that a successor to Kagan will be in place by the end of the school year, in the words of acting Dean Jackson during a conversation about the next Dean, “July 1 is a very important date.”

The tenor of Faust’s relationship with the Law School and the future of that institution will in part be decided in the next weeks. Who she chooses and what qualities that choice embodies will say much about her priorities and vision for an institution that has been both at the forefront of American legal scholarship and at the center national politics.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.