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With the Harvard Law School (HLS) dean search fully underway, the time is right for the University and Law School administrations to address problems of prevailing student dissatisfaction. In his dean choice, University President Lawrence H. Summers has the opportunity to choose a leader who will make a significant and enduring impact on the quality of student life at the law school.
Departing Dean Robert C. Clark will no doubt leave a legacy as an incredible fund-raiser and ambassador for the school in the greater legal world. But the complaints vocalized by law students at a recent meeting with Summers hosted by the Law School Council are indicative of the frustrations and pessimism these students feel about the quality of life on campus.
HLS would not be confused for one with a thriving social life; alumni and current students often characterize the school as possessing an unfriendly and cutthroat atmosphere that begets competitiveness rather than community. While the class size reduction enacted two years ago helped to build unification among the students, the work needed to improve student attitudes and experiences has only just begun.
In light of recent student complaints, Summers should consider candidates who are sensitive to issues of diversity and will put forth a sincere effort to diversify the faculty and draw more people from different backgrounds to the school. Of the 161 Professors at HLS, only 39 are women. In the past few years, the administration has repeatedly been accused of failing to properly handle issues of racial insensitivity. These problems were largely overlooked during Clark’s tenure, and an atmosphere that addresses concerns of insensitivity is long overdue.
The town hall meeting last Tuesday opened with the presentation of a petition, signed by more than 250 students, calling on Summers to consult students on the dean search. In fact, this meeting was the first time Summers had actually addressed student input publicly. While the meeting was a positive step, the Dean Search Committee should maintain open communication with students and strongly consider which characteristics students are looking for in the next dean. Encouraging student input is crucial to ensuring that the selection committee is able to select a dean who will be prepared to address student concerns. It will also help HLS develop a reputation as an appealing institution for its students to undergo both personal and academic growth.
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