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Civil rights scholar and Harvard Law School (HLS) professor Christopher F. Edley Jr. has been appointed to lead the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, a program that is facing a budget crunch and has recently come under fire for failing to promote diversity among students and faculty members.
Edley, 50, will become the first black man to lead a top-ranked U.S. law school when he steps into his new role at the Boalt Hall School of Law on July 1, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A political aide who has advised past presidents and currently advises presidential candidate Howard B. Dean, Edley was chosen from a field of over 200 professors and administrators from around the country, officials said.
“I think it’s an incredible coup for Boalt Hall and for the University of California,” Boalt Hall Interim Dean Robert C. Berring Jr. ’71 said. “I think Chris is going to bring a real vision about legal education and about the role of law in society—and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Tyler Professsor of Law Laurence H. Tribe ’62 praised Boalt Hall for its “far-sightedness” in choosing Edley, a former student of his.
“This is the best thing to happen to the State of California in a long time, and a real loss both for Harvard and for those, like me, who have been fortunate enough to have Chris as a good friend as well as a wonderful colleague,” Tribe wrote in an e-mail. “Professor Edley is a brilliant and visionary thinker, an accomplished scholar, and a superb administrator with a keen sense of the politically attainable and of how best to get from here to there. I congratulate...Chris for his courage in taking on this challenging assignment."
Edley will take control of the prestigious law school during a tumultuous period in its 90-year history.
John Dwyer resigned as dean last year over allegations that he sexually harassed a student, and Boalt Hall has been criticized for having too few female faculty members and for doing a poor job of maintaining racial and ethnic diversity in the wake of a 1996 decision banning the use of affirmative action.
Boalt Hall professors and administrators said they see Edley, who founded the Harvard Civil Rights Project and serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as the man who can right the ship.
“I think he will be someone who, instead of avoiding the fight, will carry the fight,” Berring said.
An Affirmative Action
When affirmative action was banned in the state of California in 1996, the number of black and Latino students admitted to Boalt Hall fell sharply.
Edley, who has turned down deanship offers in the past, said the challenge of raising minority enrollment was part of the reason he decided to take the job.
In an e-mail yesterday, Edley said it would take a great deal of effort to bring a more diverse student body to Boalt Hall without the tool of affirmative action.
“Everyone at Berkeley is justifiably pleased that, after years of hard work with outreach and recruitment, the presence of under-represented minority students had recovered to earlier levels,” wrote Edley, who as special counsel to President Clinton helped fashion that administration’s “mend it, don’t end it” approach to affirmative action.
“Sustaining that will be a challenge, probably requiring steady quantities of energy and innovation. But there’s every reason to be optimistic; every faculty member and administrator I met, campus-wide, believes strongly that inclusion is an ingredient of excellence for a world-class institution, and that Berkeley’s special mission at ground zero of America’s demographic change makes inclusion an absolute imperative,” he added.
Beyond dealing with minority enrollment issues, Edley said he intends to create a branch of the Harvard Civil Rights Project at Berkeley.
In addition, he will have to confront a statewide budget crisis that continues to afflict public education.
“The fact that the school and university face fiscal pressures means that it’s a tough job and that is part of the attraction,” Edley said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
—Staff writer Andrew C. Esensten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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