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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained
Fifty years ago, Harvard Law School (HLS) first opened its doors to a handful of female law students. Last week, on the landmark event’s golden anniversary, HLS welcomed its first female dean. Professor of Law Elena Kagan, with her gifted scholarship and leadership, will no doubt leave a remarkable legacy.
Kagan’s impressive credentials prove her well-suited for this important position. Formerly a clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and a deputy assistant to President Clinton on domestic policy, Kagan offers fresh insight and perspective in the realm of public law. With her experience both as an administrative law scholar and her time spent working in government, she is an incredibly accomplished leader in the public legal sector. Currently HLS suffers from a reputation of being too focused on corporate law, and we hope that Kagan’s leadership will encourage more law students to consider positions in the public sphere.
Improving the quality of student life should be one of the new dean’s first priorities, and Kagan’s excellent teaching record indicates that she will be sensitive to student needs and concerns during her tenure. In 1993, while a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, she received the graduating students’ award for teaching excellence. Over the past four years as a professor at HLS, she has continued her stellar classroom performance.
In the upcoming years, HLS will be faced with a challenging decision about the possible move to Allston. Kagan’s understanding of the complexity of the issue will no doubt greatly enrich the school in its plans for the future. As chair of the HLS locational options committee during the past two years, Kagan has helped to lead the debate about the law school’s future physical planning scenarios. Her consensus-building skills helped to appease concerned faculty and alumni and bring about a well-reasoned compromise.
While in the White House, Kagan had the opportunity to work with University President Lawrence H. Summers, fostering a working relationship that will likely help her to represent the law school’s concerns to the University.
It is exciting that Summers has picked a woman to take the helm at one of the University’s major schools. We hope that the new leadership at HLS will attract more women and minority faculty and help the law school in its efforts to remain one of the finest and most cutting-edge legal institutions in the world.
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