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Who is John Manning? Meet Harvard’s New Conservative Interim Provost

Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning '82 is taking a leave of absence from his role to serve as Harvard's interim provost. The move elevates one of the school's most media-shy deans to be the second most powerful administrator.
Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning '82 is taking a leave of absence from his role to serve as Harvard's interim provost. The move elevates one of the school's most media-shy deans to be the second most powerful administrator. By Courtesy of Jessica Scranton
By S. Mac Healey and Saketh Sundar, Crimson Staff Writers

Interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 announced on Friday that Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’82 will serve as the University’s interim provost, elevating one of the school’s most media-shy deans to become the school’s second most powerful administrator.

Manning said he would take a leave of absence from the Law School to join the University’s senior leadership in Massachusetts Hall. His new role comes after former Harvard President Claudine Gay’s resignation in January forced Garber — the University’s longtime provost — to become interim president.

In Manning’s appointment, Harvard has gained an interim provost who is not only an accomplished scholar and respected administrator known for his ability to steer his HLS through challenges but was also an internal finalist in the last presidential search.

While Manning graduated from both Harvard College and the Law School, he is a conservative, an anomaly among Harvard’s largely liberal faculty.

Right now, it could be his greatest asset.

“One advantage to appointing him as provost at this moment is to demonstrate that the University values people who are right of center,” HLS professor Michael J. Klarman said in an interview.

A Conservative Harvard Citizen

Aside from a brief stint on Columbia Law School’s faculty, Harvard has always been Manning’s academic home.

A former resident of Quincy House, Manning graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1982 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He later received a law degree from HLS in 1985.

“Harvard enabled me, as a first-gen student, to live a life that neither my parents nor theirs could have dreamed of,” Manning told The Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

His colleagues at the Law School said Manning’s love for Harvard is evident.

University Professor Annette Gordon-Reed called Manning “a good Harvard citizen.”

Former Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, a longtime HLS professor who returned to the faculty after retiring from the Court, wrote in a statement to The Crimson that Manning is “devoted to this institution.”

After graduating from HLS, Manning clerked at the United States Court of Appeals before serving as a law clerk for conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin G. Scalia, the father of conservative textualism and a Ronald Reagan appointee who anchored the conservative bench for 30 years.

Manning shares Scalia’s conservative philosophy of textualism focusing on the literal text of the constitution rather than on historical intent. Manning has since written on Scalia’s legal theories and delivered a lecture at HLS in his honor.

“He’s known for adopting a particular methodology in his work which is a methodology that usually appeals to people who are a little bit right of center,” said Klarman.

Manning, however, left the Republican Party upon former U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s nomination in 2016, according to Klarman.

After clerking with Scalia, Manning worked at the Department of Justice and in private practice before becoming a professor at Columbia Law School in 1994.

A decade later, in 2004, then-HLS dean and current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan offered Manning a professorship at the school as part of a broader effort to hire more conservative faculty members.

Manning served as a deputy dean of HLS before former University President Drew Gilpin Faust appointed him to the deanship in 2017.

The Harvard Law School library is located behind the Science Center Plaza. John Manning became HLS dean in 2017.
The Harvard Law School library is located behind the Science Center Plaza. John Manning became HLS dean in 2017. By Kathryn S. Kuhar

Academic Freedom Champion

As dean of HLS, Manning consistently demonstrated an interest in fostering open discourse on campus, according to members of his faculty.

Manning established the Rappaport Forum at HLS — a speaker series that promotes civil debate on controversial issues. Forum topics have included hate speech, voting rights, abortion, and Trump’s disqualification from the Colorado ballot.

“I marvel at his devotion to rigorous attention to all points of view and capacity to bring diverse groups together,” former HLS Dean Martha L. Minow wrote in a statement to The Crimson.

Manning instituted “Chatham House Rules” at HLS, a non-attribution policy which aims to protect students from harassment for the opinions they express in class. Manning has also pushed for a more ideologically diverse faculty.

“The dean drives the hiring process, and the school has hired, again, people with intellectually diverse views,” Klarman said.

Manning’s leadership also comes as other law schools like Yale and Stanford have faced controversies over issues of free speech. HLS previously earned a reputation as the “Beirut on the Charles” over frequent divisions among the school’s faculty members.

Klarman noted that HLS, under Manning’s tenure, has largely avoided those tensions.

In the announcement of Manning’s new position to Harvard affiliates, Garber called him the “ideal individual” to lead new institutional neutrality efforts.

During a brief appearance at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting on Tuesday, Manning touched on the University’s upcoming efforts to explore institutional neutrality.

Manning told faculty at the meeting that Garber had asked him to take up two cross-school initiatives: conversations on institutional neutrality and a range of programs centered on academic freedom, including the FAS’ civil discourse initiative.

He said Harvard is “increasingly expected” to weigh in on controversies, but that statements by University leaders “may deter and stifle, instead of stimulate” debate and discussion on campus.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators have offices in University Hall. John Manning appeared briefly at the FAS meeting Tuesday.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators have offices in University Hall. John Manning appeared briefly at the FAS meeting Tuesday. By Sharleen Y. Loh

As dean of HLS, Manning has been known to be a strong proponent of institutional neutrality — a stance that has faced criticism on several occasions from HLS students and alumni.

During Brett M. Kavanaugh’s 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearings involving allegations of sexual misconduct, Manning refused to issue a statement even as hundreds of alumni and students called for Kavanaugh to be investigated and barred from teaching at HLS.

When the HLS Religious Freedom Clinic was being established, a LGBTQ+ student organization criticized Manning for refusing to answer if the new clinic would work on cases that abridge LGBTQ+ individuals’ rights. Manning allegedly cited academic freedom for his refusal to respond.

Along with his silence on controversial issues, Manning has historically been reclusive with the media. Manning has historically declined to schedule regular interviews with The Crimson, a practice maintained by most of Harvard’s top deans and administrators.

‘The Law School’s Loss’

But broadly among faculty, Manning has been a revered dean at the Law School.

“He’s been engaged with students,” Gordon-Reed said. “I know he meets with them often, and really cares about them.”

HLS professor Janet E. Halley said “the Law School’s loss is the University’s gain.”

The University’s announcement appointing Manning as interim provost said he will take a leave of absence to join the Harvard’s top leadership, a move that leaves the door open for him to return to HLS.

Former HLS Deputy Dean John C.P. Goldberg will serve as the school’s interim dean.

I. Glenn Cohen, a deputy dean at HLS, wrote in a statement to The Crimson that Manning tries “to ensure that everyone gets to start their time at Harvard feeling supported and ready to thrive.”

HLS Professor Oren Bar-Gill wrote that Manning is “broadly admired for his sound judgment, his inclusive and effective leadership and his devotion to the law school and to the university.”

“Everybody likes John, everybody trusts John,” Klarman said.

—Staff writer Tilly R. Robinson contributed reporting.

—Staff writer S. Mac Healey can be reached at mac.healey@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @MacHealey.

—Staff writer Saketh Sundar can be reached at saketh.sundar@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @saketh_sundar.

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