Sideshow Bob

BY ARKADI GERNEY

To the One-Ls: Welcome. During your orientation, you may have noticed an unspectacular speech from our Dean, Sideshow Bob Clark. I hope you all were paying attention, because in all likelihood you won’t see much more of him in the rest of your time here. You’ll see him again when he pops in for a cameo in the Law School Parody, but Sideshow Bob is not known for his visibility among the students. Nonetheless, don’t be fooled into thinking that Sideshow Bob is only a bit player in the administration of HLS. In the last decade, no person has had a greater role in reshaping this place than Sideshow Bob. The only problem is that, generally, he has reshaped it for the worse. Let’s take a quick look at his record:

The Strategic Plan

A few years ago, HLS commissioned a costly study by McKinsey & Co. to aid in the Strategic Planning Process, a top-to-bottom review of the school. The McKinsey report demonstrated that students here were broadly dissatisfied with the experience of HLS, and that the aspect of HLS that troubled students most was grading arbitrariness. In response, some faculty members came up with an innovative three-step grade reform proposal that won the support of about two-thirds of the student body in surveys. Last fall, grade reform died in a close faculty vote. Sideshow Bob voted against it. Over the objections of numerous faculty members, Sideshow Bob pushed through a vote during the largest gathering of African-American alumni in the history of HLS. Understandably, most of HLS’ African-American faculty were unable to attend the meeting and therefore had no vote.

Instead of focusing on the issues that the McKinsey report said were the problems here, Sideshow Bob’s Strategic Planning Process has devolved mainly into a bloated construction project. While there may be a lot of buildings going up on campus in the next few years, the opportunity to substantively transform HLS through the Strategic Plan has apparently slipped away. The McKinsey survey suggests that we have problems here that we cannot build our way out of.

(An aside: Last spring, at a open meeting for students, I asked Sideshow Bob why the Strategic Plan seem to ignore the student concerns as expressed in the McKinsey study. His physical response was as dismissive as his verbal response. While I asked my question, he looked at his watch. Amazing. Was he purposely mimicking George H.W. Bush, or was the similarity purely coincidental? I’ll never know.)

HL(B)S

Under Sideshow Bob’s watch, HLS seems to be becoming more like HBS every year. The look, the feel and the reality of Harvard Law School are increasingly corporate. Take, for example, the ill-advised admitted students trips to Hale & Dorr and Ropes & Gray that HLS debuted a few years ago. In 1999, admitted students weekends included the strange spectacle of the prospective students being herded onto buses and delivered into the lavish offices of the two massive Boston law firms. These events at the two firms – among the Law School’s largest financial contributors – violated at least the spirit of HLS’s own internal guidelines that prohibit any law firm recruiting or contact before November of the 1L year. After student pressure about the unseemliness of these events, the corporate law firm trips were scaled back and eventually eliminated from the admitted students weekends. Another stupid idea is the unpopular plan Sideshow Bob presented the HLS faculty to move our campus to Allston right next to HBS. In a straw poll of faculty, only one member of the faculty supported the move. What is most disturbing is that at a time when corporate interests and the Chicago School are achieving an even more prominent position at HLS, public interest programs have had to struggle with the Dean’s office to get a bare minimum of funding.

The Living Wage

Last spring, 50 Harvard students – three HLS students among them – took over the University President’s office to advocate for a living hourly wage of $10.25 as a minimum for all Harvard workers. The Harvard Living Campaign won the support of the Cambridge and Boston city councils, both Massachusetts senators, hundreds of professors and Bob Herbert of the New York Times, but not the support of Sideshow Bob. After a 20-day sit-in, the university gave way, reopening a process it had called closed and appointing a new committee that seems on a course to institute a living wage. Strangely, though, the law students who participated in the sit-in were punished more harshly than students from Harvard College. Even Anthony Kennedy ’61, the purveyor of history’s most perverse per curiam, seemed to muster more compassion than Sideshow Bob when I asked him about the plight of Harvard’s low-wage workers. Kennedy acknowledged, “with $6.50 you can barely buy a box of cereal these days.”

The Bottom Line

Sideshow Bob’s predecessor, James Vorenberg, dramatically increased the number of minority and women faculty members at HLS, greatly expanded LIPP and served as Dean for eight years. Bob Clark has been dean for 12 years and 12 years are enough. Bob Clark seems like a perfectly nice guy, but all the indicators suggest that it is time for new leadership. Among students – no matter whether you ask them informally or whether McKinsey & Co. spends hundreds of thousands to study their opinions – there is a widespread feeling that HLS is heading in the wrong direction. Something is wrong here. Calling for a new dean may seem rash or harsh. But, if this law school matters, if graduating lawyers who can and will enter public service matter, then it matters who is in charge. We need a new dean who will respect the best parts of this institution’s traditions, renew a commitment to graduating lawyers who will reach out to the most disadvantaged Americans, and restore HLS to a position of leadership in legal education.

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