People in the News: Elena Kagan

Despite being a relative newcomer at the school, constitutional law expert Elena Kagan was seen by many as an obvious choice to replace Robert C. Clark as dean of Harvard Law School (HLS).

In the four years since she arrived at HLS—she was a visiting professor for two years, then gained tenure in 2001—Kagan has thrown herself into the administrative matters of the school, gaining respect and visibility for her work on a committee studying the possibility of a move to Allston.

She represented a fresh face, and at a school where rivalries run deep had no obvious enemies.

And she seemed a favorite of University President Lawrence H. Summers, who she knew from her time in Washington and who she had managed to impress with her work on Allston as well.

Thus it came as no surprise, when after a five month search, Kagan was appointed to the post in April, just in time to lead HLS on its biggest fundraising campaign.


When she takes the helm on July 1, Kagan, 42, will become the first woman to lead HLS in its 186-year history.

Kagan is no stranger to Harvard Law.

She graduated from the school in 1986, and is now preparing to became the boss of her former teachers, including Tyler Professor of Constitutional Law Laurence H. Tribe ’62.

She lived in Tribe’s basement when she worked in 1988 as an unpaid advisor on the failed presidential campaign of former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.

“Larry Summers hit a perfect 10…when he named Elena Kagan the Law School’s next Dean,” Tribe wrote in an e-mail. “As my student, she was brilliant; as a scholar, she is incisive and insightful.”

Kagan came to Harvard from Washington, where she worked as the deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Clinton administration with Summers.

Before her time in Washington, Kagan had held a teaching position at the University of Chicago, which she accepted after Harvard did not offer her a job.

In preparation for the job, Kagan has been conducting a listening campaign—meeting with every faculty member “just to hear what they were thinking about,” she said.

As the school year comes to a close, Kagan has nearly finished all of these meetings, most of which took place in her colleagues offices.

“[The meetings] were very useful and will prove to be very useful in the future,” she said. “In Washington, I discovered that I really liked being an administrator…and I discovered how important it was to be a good listener.”