Harvard Law School is a much different place than it was when Robert Clark’s deanship began 13 years ago. To name but a few of Clark’s accomplishments, the Law School’s riches are even greater, its 1L classes are smaller, and its Low Income Protection Plan provides a degree of freedom to public interest-minded students that is on par with any law school in the world. While a final reckoning of Clark’s success or failure is still premature, the search for a new dean must be made with Clark’s accomplishments in mind.
Clark’s departure also leaves a great deal of business unfinished. Foremost among the new dean’s challenges will be the move to Allston — whether it happens or not — and negotiating a place of appropriate stature for the Law School within the University framework. Allston will affect HLS no matter what schools end up moving — if we stay in Cambridge with our aging campus, significant renovation is likely to be needed.
The new dean will also inherit a capital campaign that Clark began, set to begin its public phase at the end of this semester. Clark’s fundraising prowess is virtually unrivaled in the history of the Law School, and fundraising will likely remain a priority for any new dean. But if that dean wants to tackle other problems — student dissatisfaction, the narrowness of the on-campus interviewing process, facilities concerns — she will need to invest more of herself in those areas than Clark has.
Solving those smaller problems may not be the best role for the dean of the Law School. It may make more sense to leave those things in the hands of better-equipped subordinates like Deans Richardson and Rakoff. But if the Law School is to truly take advantage of its preeminence, leadership is not likely to come from the bottom. If HLS is to pursue a truly creative and flexible recruiting system — one that would make the relative ease of finding private law firm jobs a reality for students seeking public interest work and clerkships — there will have to be initiative from the top. If we are to have a more open community — one with greater transparency from the administration and a larger voice for both faculty and students — the new dean will have to make that happen.
What we ultimately want from a dean, then, will depend on what we want from the Law School itself. All of us claim to want a community that is both open and respectful. Clark showed true leadership in condemning a potentially censorious racial harassment policy, but taking on so-called speech codes does nothing to educate bigoted members of the student body. The new dean must consider what kind of student body she wants, and make concrete changes to admissions policies — such as requiring face-to-face interviews — that will help us get it.
Similarly, we must hope for a new dean that will show the type of moral leadership that Clark showed earlier this year when HLS was forced to allow JAG recruiting in OCI. Although HLS capitulated, Clark’s emotional show of support, via e-mail and participation in a rally on the steps of Langdell, showed solidarity with gay and lesbian students and with the Law School as a whole.
As the quest for Clark’s replacement has already shown, relations between the faculty and administration could be better. During Clark’s tenure, faculty members repeatedly objected to top-down proclamations and decisions made without faculty input. Especially if they come from outside HLS, the new dean should make extra efforts to incorporate both students and faculty into more decisions.
But more important than any single issue, the new dean should be tasked with articulating a new vision for the Law School. Just as New York University has transformed itself into a world-class international law school, HLS should use its redoubtable resources to propel it back to the forefront of legal education. HLS must do more than survive on inertia — it must stake out a new position at the forefront of legal academia that requires daring, creativity and a willingness to fail. Clark’s tenure was marked by competence, composure and fundraising capability. In a new dean, we must be willing to take a chance. No matter how brazen, our choice must show the confidence of a new conviction, of a desire to be more than a place of stasis. HLS must reassert itself as a place of change.