letter published in The Harvard Law Record Wednesday.
The letter, which calls upon University President Drew G. Faust to choose Wilkins as the new dean, comes months after current Law School Dean Martha L. Minow announced in January her plans to step down at the end of this academic year. There is currently no public list of candidates for the position.
In the letter, the students groups argue that Wilkins is best positioned to lead the Law School and outline a number of criteria for the next dean of the school, including “The Dean must be a leader committed to innovation in education,” “The Dean must inspire and understand the Student Body,” and “The Dean must be committed to student inclusion and belonging.”
In particular, the letter praises Wilkins’s background studying the legal profession and his commitment to engaging students.
“We, as a University, as a Law School, and as a distinctly privileged group of individuals, cannot afford to squander the opportunity to appoint Professor David Wilkins as Dean of Harvard Law School,” the letter reads.
Upon launching the formal search for a new dean shortly after Minow’s announcement, Faust appointed a Faculty Advisory Committee to collect and provide input on the decision-making process, and Faust and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 will select the school’s next leader.
Natalie D. Vernon, who co-wrote the letter and is the president of the Women’s Law Association, said drafters of the letter started by determining the qualities of an individual who would be best suited to the deanship.
“We started with a big picture conversation about the qualities we think a dean should possess,” Vernon said. “We took a look around and we had some conversations about who would best meet these qualities, and Professor Wilkins is above and beyond the best candidate for the job.”
Kristin A. Turner, who also co-wrote the letter and is the president of the Black Law Students’ Association, said the students who drafted the letter decided to endorse a specific candidate to offer a concrete option.
“We toyed around with the idea of writing a letter that was general, but then we decided to take it upon ourselves and actually discuss amongst ourselves and survey the climate of the campus and see who within our own represented and embodied the ideals and what we envisioned and what we hoped to see out of the institution,” Vernon said.
Wilkins, who attended Harvard Law School, currently serves as the Lester Kissel Professor of Law, the Vice Dean for Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession, and the Faculty Director of the Center on the Legal Profession and the Center for Lawyers and the Professional Services Industry at Harvard Law School.
University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson wrote in an email statement that Faust appreciates students’ active involvement in the process.
“President Faust is grateful to have the students’ letter as well as the many other thoughtful communications on the dean search that she has received from across the Law School community,” Jackson wrote.
The affinity groups’ endorsement follows months of student efforts to increase their input in the dean search. Previously, the Law School held panels for students to speak with members of the Faculty Advisory Committee, and Faust has provided an email address to which students can send feedback and perspective on the search. Still, some students have asked to take on a more involved role in the search.—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @JamieDHalper.