HLS town meeting charts future of strategic planning

BY MIKE WISER

“I gather that those of you who saw the Parody now know really know how the Strategic Plan was put together.” Prof. Dan Meltzer ’75 was joking, but after two years of concerted effort, the Strategic Plan remains a mystery to many. In an attempt to combat the uncertainty surrounding the Strategic Plan, a town meeting was hosted this week to chart the future course of reform at HLS.

The Strategic Plan laid out a number of improvements designed to address concerns with the Harvard Law School experience. Meltzer served as the chair of the Steering Committee, a body composed of faculty, students, and administrators, which compiled the final Strategic Plan from a host of specialized committees. The Strategic Plan is actually the second step in a process that began when the school commissioned McKinsey & Company to conduct an extensive survey of student satisfaction.

Space Planning Aspirations

Meltzer, along with J.D. Dean Todd Rakoff ’75, explained to the nearly 35 assembled students and administrators that while some aspects of the plan would result in changes next year, other parts of the plan would take far more time. Meltzer said that the school’s biggest challenge was finding space to implement the proposals. “We’re maxed out and then some for space at the law school right now,” he said.

According to Meltzer, one of the “space planning aspirations” that is being considered is putting the Everett Street garage underground. Then, new buildings would be erected where the garage, Wyeth Hall, and Baker House are now located.

Meltzer said that some of the new space is needed to alleviate expected crowding at HLS, as the Strategic Plan called for the net addition of 15 new faculty members. In addition to new faculty and administrators, Rakoff added that the school hoped to create social space that could be used for the seven first-year law colleges that would be created next September.

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, a number of students complained about the scarcity and low quality of on-campus housing at HLS. Rakoff said that the school was considering the development of more housing across the Charles River in Allston. The problem, Rakoff said, was that “people across the river would feel they are across the river” and alienated from the campus. Meltzer, however, believed that students would be willing to live across the river if the school provided high quality – including possibly apartment-style – accommodations.

Closer to campus, Meltzer said that the school was considering the construction of additional rooms at North Hall and possibly a new building on Everett Street. Unfortunately, Meltzer said in response to a question, it did not look likely that the Gropius complex could be razed and replaced with more modern dormitories. He said that the buildings – designed over fifty years ago by the architect Walter Gropius – would probably be named historical landmarks if the school ever indicated that it was planning to destroy them. “If you happen to know any terrorists … ” Meltzer quipped about the seemingly intractable problem.

Law Colleges and the Great Unknowns

While changes to the HLS campus won’t be seen for a while, next year’s 1Ls will notice the impact of the Strategic Plan even before the first day of class. Under the Strategic Plan, the 1L class will be divided into seven sections – to be called colleges – instead of the four sections that have been standard for years. “The big class size will be about 80 or, as Dean [Joyce] Curll constantly tells me to say, 79 – 79 sounds smaller than 80,” Rakoff said. Currently, the largest first year classes number about 140 students.

The students in each of the colleges will still take their basic first year courses together, but the colleges will also be designed to create a cohesive social group. “Law school shouldn’t stop at the classroom door,” Rakoff told the group. He added that fine tuning of the law colleges has not yet been completed.

Key to the development of the colleges will be the faculty member who is assigned to each of the colleges to serve as a “Master.” The masters will develop activities for the sections and help to define the colleges and their role at the school. Next year’s colleges will be lead by Profs. John Coates, Gerald Frug ’63, Bruce Hay ’88, Randall Kennedy, Meltzer, Martha Minow and David Westfall ’50. Meltzer said that the new masters are scheduled to meet for the first time in early April.

The introduction of the seven colleges was also the issue that raised the most student discussion at the town meeting. Justin Cooper ’01, the outgoing vice-president of the Law School Council (LSC), said that it would be great “if rolling out the law colleges could be like rolling out a brand of designer jeans for each one.” Cooper thought it was important for the colleges to develop an identity that doesn’t change from year to year. Other students, however, cautioned that the school should be careful about compartmentalizing the school too much into small social and academic groups.

Rakoff said in response to these concerns that one of the “great unknowns” was what would happen to the students in the law colleges after they became second and third year students. Typically, he said, students tend get more involved in extra-curricular activities and lose their section identity. Rakoff was not sure whether the law colleges would be a purely first year phenomenon or whether students would retain their college identity.

Papers and the Conservative Pro Bono

The Strategic Plan will also create some curriculum changes. Unlike the current limited system of 1L course selection, future first-year students will be permitted to take any spring elective with second and third year students. “There will be people diligently doing their homework,” Rakoff warned the gathered students about classes that they would have with next year’s 1Ls.

The Strategic Plan also called for a review of the third year paper requirement. The plan proposed scaling down the requirement and offering more credit to students who do longer papers. The Legal Education Committee, Rakoff said, was examining the third year paper and deciding what would be the best changes to implement.

The faculty also approved a plank of the Strategic Plan that required 40 hours of pro bono work for future classes at HLS. However, Rakoff told the audience, students will not be required to fulfill the requirement until the infrastructure was in place to ensure that students could easily locate pro bono placements with adequate supervision. Rakoff said that the Implementation Committee, which will meet this summer, would also have to ensure that there was a wide range of options so that students would not feel forced into working for an organization that they were at odds with politically. Rakoff was especially concerned about ensuring that there were options for conservative students.

Meltzer said that the school had already acted on the faculty’s decision regarding one of his “least favorite issues” – grade reform. In accordance with the final faculty decision to reject an overhaul of the letter grading system, Meltzer said that the school had sent information to the faculty about grade distribution at the school. While there is no mandatory curve, the faculty was encouraged to base their grading on the practices of the school as a whole.

While not part of the Strategic Plan, there was also discussion at the meeting of possibly reworking the first-year curriculum. According to Rakoff, a committee was examining the possibility that the school look at changing its first year curriculum, which has been in place for over 100 years.

Adjusting LIPP

The Strategic Plan also called for changes in the school’s financial aid, summer funding and loan forgiveness programs. Meltzer said that there was already good news for the 75 percent of students who are eligible
for federal work study funding because the school would now be able to offer them over $5,000 during the summer if they chose to work in a qualifying public interest job. For other students, Meltzer said, the stipend for summer public interest work would be at least $3,600.

More changes are also in store for the Low Income Protection Plan (LIPP). According to Meltzer, the school was examining how to widen the definition of “law related job,” as well as make changes to LIPP’s salary cap. In addition, HLS is re-examining its policy of distinguishing between regular borrowing and borrowing used to replace imputed parental contributions. The school would also be working to reduce the base level of loans that are required before the school issues grants to students. For international students, Meltzer said that it was priority of the school to create better financial aid options for students who do not qualify for federally subsidized loans.

Meltzer also discussed the difficulty of raising money directly for the LIPP program. While large donors are often willing to donate money for an endowed professorship or a building, it is often more difficult to get them to donate money for scholarships or LIPP. As Meltzer said, “One partner at a prominent law firm … said, ‘I don’t see why I should be supporting LIPP. My biggest problem is I can’t get enough Harvard Law students to work at my firm right now. And if we gave that much money to LIPP it will make it that much harder.'” However, Rakoff said that raising money for LIPP was a priority and that any donations for other causes would free up the money available for the program.

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