Stanford's Janet E. Halley, a scholar known for linking the metaphysics of English poet John Donne and the modern politics of "don't ask, don't tell" sexuality, has been appointed professor of law at Harvard Law School (HLS).
As Harvard's first expert on gender and sexuality in the legal system, Halley will teach courses on family law, sexual harassment and feminist legal theory when she joins the faculty in the fall of 2000.
"She is both an experienced attorney and a bridge between the worlds of law and literary criticism," said Dean of the law school Robert C. Clark. "I am delighted that Professor Halley has chosen to continue her exciting and important work as a member of the Harvard Law School faculty."
Halley--who also holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of California at Los Angeles--said in an interview that she hopes to upend students' assumptions about identity politics.
"My work in legal studies has been mainly focused on sexual orientation and rights claiming--in that work I do not take it for granted that every rights claim will in fact be liberatory," she said. "If 'identity' is the nightmare from which we are trying to awake, what does it mean to claim one has rights 'as a' gay man or a lesbian?"
Halley said that her interest in bridging literary criticism and the legal studies developed after she spent five years as an assistant professor of English at Hamilton College.
Her book, Don't: A Reader's Guide to the Military's Anti-Gay policy is more reminiscent of her work of heresy and orthodoxy in early modern England than it is like other scholarship on the issue, she said.
"I realized that the legal environment was a context for the generation of systematic meanings, and wanted to understand that better," she said of her scholarship.
Halley said she regrets leaving Stanford, but Harvard provided opportunities for her that were too enticing, including "the range and depth of the faculty, the intensity of the intellectual environment...the beauty of the campus, and the possibility of putting off a midlife crisis for another ten years."
Halley had taught at Harvard before, as a visiting professor in 1999.
Students who took her two classes commended her teaching skills.
"Often I feel that teaching skill isn't really emphasized at the law school, but in her case, teaching is in her background," said Kerry Regan, a second year law student who is also co-chair of LAMBDA, the law school student group for its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Regan said that Halley fills a gap in the kinds of courses the law school offers.
"Before her, there was not a single course that dealt with sexual orientation in the law as a central part of the scholarship," she said. "She gave me a language to look at and discuss issues within the gay and lesbian community in a more complicated way."
Professor of Law Martha L. Minow said that Halley has a unique capacity to "trace the constraints in what looks liberating and the liberation in what looks constraining."
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