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Student Groups Seek Role in Law School Dean Search

Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, shown here during Celebration 60 in 2013, defended race-based affirmative action for law school admissions in an amici curiae brief.
Harvard Law School Dean Martha L. Minow, shown here during Celebration 60 in 2013, defended race-based affirmative action for law school admissions in an amici curiae brief.
By Jamie D. Halper, Crimson Staff Writer

Just weeks after University President Drew G. Faust launched the search for the next Dean of Harvard Law School, student groups at the school have started organizing to make themselves “an indispensable part of the process.”

While Faust and University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 invited students to submit feedback through an email account during the search, some Law School students argue that they should be more formally included in the search process. In January, Law School Dean Martha L. Minow announced that she would step down at the end of the academic year and said that she expects the search will conclude by the time she returns to teaching full-time.

Dean of Harvard Law School Martha L. Minow will step down in July.
Dean of Harvard Law School Martha L. Minow will step down in July. By George J Lok

The Law School’s student body president Nino Monea wrote a letter to Faust Jan. 18 requesting that Faust and Garber attend a student forum about the dean search, a student become a member of the committee leading the search, and that students help interview candidates for the position.

Monea said he was disappointed with the level of student involvement in the search Faust originally described.

“[Faust’s letter] did not outline any specific role for how students would be engaged. I think that’s unfortunate, especially since faculty were mentioned,” Monea said. “It’s not asking for much that we be given the same sort of courtesy.”

Kristin A. Turner, the president of the Black Law Students Association, shared Monea’s concerns about how the search will incorporate student voices.

“As much as we appreciate the gesture, I don’t know if that’s going to be wholly sufficient considering the magnitude of what the Harvard Law School dean search entails, and the climate that the next dean will be inheriting, in terms of the ongoing conversations we have about how to set a more progressive course into our bicentennial era,” Turner said.

University spokesperson Melodie L. Jackson said in a statement that Faust and Garber want to hear student input, emphasizing their appreciation for the feedback they have received so far via email.

“The President’s office is working with the Law School to create opportunities for a diverse group of students to speak with the President or Provost to share their perspectives on the Law School and the deanship at this important time of transition for the school,” Jackson said.

In an emailed statement, Monea added that he has received a response to his letter, indicating that meeting about students concerns would take place.

In addition to Monea’s letter, Michele D. Hall, a fellow in the Law and Social Change program of study at the Law School, said she has begun working with a number of student groups to plan a forum where students can ask Faust questions and provide feedback on the search.

“None of the student that are in the Law School were here last time a new dean was hired, so we just wanted to have the opportunity both to be able to offer transparency to the process, but also to have the student voice included in the process,” Hall said.

Natalie D. Vernon, the president of the Women’s Law Association, said she she hopes the next dean continues to improve gender equity at the school and adapts the curriculum to the changing legal profession.

“I think these are all kind of tectonic shifts in the legal profession that we have to address in the Law School environment first and foremost,” Vernon said. “I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges for the incoming dean, but also one of the biggest opportunities to really put Harvard Law back in the forefront of legal education in the midst of this massively changing time period that we’re in.”

Last year, Law School student groups made a series of demands on Minow to improve the school’s treatment of minority students, including hiring more professors of color and creating an office dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Student group leaders say that some of those same topics should be priorities for the new dean.

“Last year the Law School got a lot of press because we were involved in a lot of activism, but you know the issues that were raised last year by no means were just being put on the table last year, and by no means have they been muted or gone away, just because some of the activism has dissipated,” Turner said.

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