BY MIKE WISER
In a letter to the Harvard Law School community on Monday, November 25th, Dean Robert Clark announced that he would step down as Dean on June 30th, 2003. Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who cited Clark’s leadership in a separate letter to members of the University, said that he would appoint a faculty group to advise him on hiring a new Dean. Summers also promised to consult with other faculty, staff, students, and alumni during the process of finding a new dean.
Clark, Summers Reflect on Clark’s Tenure as Dean
Clark said that he plans to take a sabbatical and then return to research and teaching at the Law School.
“Harvard Law School is a very special institution, and its impact on the world is both great and good. Serving it as Dean has been an indescribably meaningful and varied experience; I feel blessed,” Clark wrote in the letter.
Clark also explained that the school was in the beginning phases an ambitious Strategic Plan that will require a major new fundraising effort that is would to continue through 2007. Clark wrote that he did not feel that he would be able to see the plan through its completion.
“I do not think it appropriate, in light of current norms at Harvard University, to continue my already long tenure to such a time. Fortunately, there is a natural changeover point in our near future. The Law School is planning a celebration to kick off the public phase of its new campaign on June 13-14, 2003,” Clark wrote.
Clark added that he took over his position as Dean at a time when the school was at the early stages of implementing a larger plan and that it seemed natural time for a replacement to step in at a similar time.
Clark said that he had been privileged to serve during an important period of growth for the Law School. During his almost fourteen years at the helm of Harvard Law School, Clark oversaw the construction of Langdell Library, the expansion of the faculty and curriculum, as well as a growing emphasis on global legal practice.
In his letter, President Summers wrote that Clark had “devoted himself to strengthening the faculty, enriching the curriculum, improving the student experience, and enhancing the Law School’s physical and financial resources.” He added, “Academic excellence has been his constant guiding light. He has encouraged the School to take a more international outlook while building its specialized programs of research, reinforced its ties to the legal profession, and deepening its commitment to public service.”
A Difficult Road Ahead for the New Dean
Despite Clark’s assurances that the end of a school year is “a natural changeover point,” the new Dean will face a number of difficult issues that the Strategic Plan left unresolved. Primary among them is whether or not the School will move across the river to Allston.
Among other things, the strategic plan calls for hiring more faculty and staff to man new offices to support the clinical requirement and to support the beefed up first year program. Those space concerns have led to plans to construct a new building near Everett Street. However, the Administration has said that such construction is not a long-term solution to the Law School’s need for more space. (See: http://www.hlrecord.org/main.cfm?include=detail&storyid=287760)
At the same time that the Law School has begun to feel a space crunch, President Summers called on a number of schools at the University’s schools to think about moving across the river to land that the University holds in Allston. Along with the Kennedy School of Government and the School of Education, the Law School is considered to be one of the leading candidates in the proposed move. Last winter, Dean Clark appointed a committee headed by Professor Elena Kegan to consider “location alternatives” for the Law School.
The new Dean may face enormous resistance from faculty, alumni, and possibly students that do not want the school to move from its historic location. Three years ago the faculty voted almost unanimously against supporting a move to Allston. It is also thought that many alumni, who would be crucial to the new capital campaign, would initially oppose a move to Allston.
For Clark, the idea of moving to Allston was always one of weighing long-term practical considerations. Clark told the RECORD last year, “I’m less emotional about a lot of the space stuff.”
Where Clark’s replacement will stand on the issue remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether the new Dean will be able to play a role in the decision and whether the decision will have to be delayed.
While the possible move to Allston will certainly be one of the major issues facing the new Dean, it will not be the only issue. Over the past few years, HLS has seen itself losing out to Stanford in US News’ influential rankings and study undertaken by Mckinsey consulting for the school a few years ago found student dissatisfaction about quality of life at the Law School and concern about grades. While the strategic plan was designed to address some of the issues found in the study, the faculty failed to approve more controversial aspects of the proposed plan such as eliminating the current grading system. Also facing the incoming Dean will be a growing discussion about diversity at the Law School questions about the proper response to a string of incidents that occurred last year. (See: http://www.hlrecord.org/main.cfm?include=detail&storyid=320068 and http://www.hlrecord.org/news/329138.html)
[This story did not originally appear in the print edition of the paper, but was posted on Monday, November 25th, 2002. Eds.]