UPDATED: January 3, 2017 at 11:16 p.m.
Dean of Harvard Law School Martha L. Minow will step down at the end of the academic year to return to teaching full-time, ending an eight-year tenure as dean that spanned a global financial crisis, federal Title IX scrutiny, and widespread student protest.
In her email Tuesday announcing that she will step down, Minow also wrote that the Law School has surpassed its capital campaign goal of $305 million. Minow has served as dean for the past eight years, but started her career at the Law School in 1981 as an assistant professor. During her time as dean she served as the chair of the Deans Steering Committee of the Association of American Schools, as the vice-chair of the Legal Services Corporation, and continued to teach courses.
“Being a scholar and a teacher was my highest aspiration. I’ve loved it and I am eager to return to it,” Minow said in an interview. “I became dean at a challenging time in the school and agreed to be dean for five years, and... now it’ll be eight, and it’s time to get back to being a professor.”
Minow will leave the helm of the Law School in the midst of a capital campaign and planning for the school’s bicentennial celebrations, happening this year. University President Drew G. Faust will begin a search for Minow’s successor “soon,” according to the announcement.
“The bicentennial plans are well on the way,” Minow said. “I very much look forward to participating in the event. I think it’s a great way for a new dean to launch the third century of the Law School with an opportunity to look back and to look forward.”
Law School affiliates commended Minow’s leadership and said they are optimistic about the future of the school.
“I cannot imagine as good a dean for the Law School [as Minow],” Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe said. “I think that Drew Faust made a wise and brilliant selection in persuading Martha to become dean of the law school and I look forward to working with President Faust to finding a successor, but I think Martha’s shoes are impossible to fill.”
Minow became dean in 2009 on the heels of the financial crisis, a time of economic upheaval at the school and in the legal profession. She oversaw campus renovations during a period of budgetary constraints, as well as the expansion of the school’s clinical and research programs.
Minow assumed leadership of the school shortly after the conclusion of its last capital campaign, which raised a record-breaking $476 million. The Law School launched its most recent—and more modest—campaign in 2013 as part of the current University-wide “One Harvard” capital campaign.
The last years of Minow’s tenure were sometimes turbulent. Federal investigators found the Law School in violation of Title IX in Dec. 2014, sparking intense debate over Title IX procedures and tensions between the Law School faculty and central administrators. In 2015, Minow oversaw implementation of Law School-specific Title IX procedures separate from those at the University’s central Title IX office.
Last year, she came under fire as student activists called on administrators to make the school more welcoming to students of color. Activists later occupied the school’s student lounge and protested an award ceremony in Minow’s honor at Brandeis University, charging that she had not adequately met their demands.
Faculty and alumni, however, applauded her efforts to promote diversity and inclusion. Minow took a number of steps to respond to student demands, including appointing a committee last November to reconsider the school’s controversial seal. In March, the school removed the seal, which is the crest of a formerly slaveholding family.
Nino Monea, the Law School’s student body president, said he enjoyed working with Minow, even as he challenged her and the administration to address student concerns.
“Despite the years where I push the school to be better, I’ve been happy working with her,” Monea said. “She’s always been open to meeting with us, the student government, and I do believe that she did help play a role in those kinds of steps like the seal and just helping improve the culture of the school.”
The last time the Law School sought a new dean, in 2009, the secretive process that ended with Faust selecting Minow lasted about six months. Many of the leading candidates were professors on the Law School faculty, but there was no clear frontrunner until just prior to the school’s internal deadline for selecting a new dean.
Minow said she is optimistic the University can select her successor before the summer begins.
“I believe that President Faust will soon convene a search committee and has six months to find a new dean,” Minow said. “I believe and hope that she will find one in that time period.”
Law School professor emeritus Alan M. Dershowitz said he doubted the University would need to select an interim dean, and that the school would draw its candidates from the current faculty.
“I don’t think they’ll have an interim dean, I think they’ll have a dean. She’s not leaving until the summer so there’s plenty of time,” Dershowitz said. “Normally, Harvard gets candidates from inside the faculty and I suspect that’s what will happen this time as well.”
Tribe said the next dean of the Law School will need to be able to navigate the Law School’s place in the United States’ tumultuous political landscape.
“I think that it’s vital that we have a dean who, like Martha Minow, is open to diverse views, has a deep commitment to teaching and scholarship, is concerned with the way in which people of color and other marginalized groups have felt excluded,” Tribe said.
Law School professor Bruce H. Mann said he regarded Minow as someone who lives by her principles and has done a terrific job of leading the Law School.“You always hate to see a good dean go, even when it’s a job that no one can do forever,” Mann said. “She leaves [the Law School] stronger and better than it has ever been, and so I think that we have reason to be optimistic that that will continue.”
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—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.