Students fight for voice on faculty appointments

BY JAY MUNIR

With the Strategic Plan calling for the hiring of up to 15 additional professors in the years to come, student organizations have redoubled efforts to inject greater student input into faculty hiring decisions.

This month, the Law School Council (LSC) voted to support a campaign by the student group Ethics, Law and Biotechnology (E.LaB) to pressure the administration to hire professors with expertise in the field of biotechnology law. Following the endorsement, the LSC named faculty hiring an “Issue of the Week,” collecting student opinion on the hiring process in Harkness Commons.

LSC President Michael French ’02 said he hopes the administration will take student opinion into account before moving ahead with the hiring process. “I think [student] suggestions can be used to provide the faculty with a sense of the areas that are important to students. Creating a dialogue, and presenting suggestions that would otherwise not be considered, are probably the strongest uses” of student opinion in the hiring process.

Student groups who have attempted to influence faculty hires in the past have been frustrated. Meeting with administrators once a month, the Environmental Law Society (ELS) has been pushing the creation of an environmental law curriculum and the appointment of several permanent professors in environmental law for several years. Yet the hiring procedure itself remains shrouded in secrecy. “We’ve made some progress, but the process is totally non-transparent,” said ELS member Baxter Wasson ’01. “With all the work we’ve put in, the appointments committee has never once invited us to one of their meetings and never has shown any interest in sharing with us the process itself.”

Students expressed concern that HLS is falling behind competitor schools by failing to hire new professors in popular disciplines. E.LaB President David Winickoff ’02, whose group collected 200 student signatures on a petition calling on Dean Clark to hire professors in biotechnology law, criticized the current state of course offerings in the field. “HLS students have a demonstrated interest in the fields of biotechnology, patent, health law and bioethics, but current course offerings are weak in these areas. Schools like Stanford, Penn and Yale have much more offerings in these areas, and we feel that Harvard should catch up.”

“Stanford has a strong environmental law program, and we [HLS] haven’t responded to that,” Wasson added. “This is a major field of law.”

Other groups, citing concerns over the lack of faculty diversity, have mounted their own campaigns to advocate the hiring of additional minority and female professors. Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) member Stephanie Chan ’02 helped organize an effort last spring to encourage the faculty to extend an offer to Yale Law Professor and former U.S. State Department official Harold Koh. Chan said she hoped HLS would hire an Asian-American professor “as soon as possible.” There are currently no tenured Asian-Americans on the faculty.

Women’s Law Association (WLA) Co-Chair Sheila V. Flynn said her organization is planning on collecting names of students supporting the hiring of additional women to the faculty. “We are very interested in corporate women faculty. We need more,” she said.

Student organizations cited the strategic plan, and its aspirational goal to grow the faculty, as an impetus behind their recent efforts. “My main concern is the actual hiring of faculty. The strategic plan calls for the hiring of new faculty, and I would like to see this occur without some of the internal faculty debating that has plagued new hiring in the past,” French said.

“I would love to see any student group with an interest in faculty hiring to present their ideas to the LSC and the student body in general,” French added.

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