HLS to lose three assistant profs


Assistant Professor Margo Schlanger
Assistant Professor Diane Ring

In a move that many students see as troubling, Harvard Law School will be losing three tenure-track assistant professors at the end of the year. Prof. Diane Ring will be leaving HLS for a tenured position at the University of Florida. Prof. Margo Schlanger and her husband Prof. Samuel Bagenstos will both be accepting tenured positions at Washington University in St. Louis.

Their impending departures have left many students asking why some of their favorite professors will not be returning to HLS in the Fall. Three-L Margaret Paton-Walsh said of Schlanger, “I thought she was brilliant in ways that are not true of the vast majority of other faculty members. She came up with flashes of genius that I’d never thought about – I loved that about her.” Indeed, all of the students who commented for this article had only positive comments about these faculty members, describing them as, “the best professors I’ve had at HLS,” “ardently student-focused,” and “a tremendous asset to this Law School.” Three-L Dena Shorago noted, “I’ve had people ask me what to take next year, but I don’t think there is anything that can replace some of these courses.”

The departure of Ring and Schlanger means that there will be only one female junior faculty member on the tenure track at HLS, Prof. Heather Gerken, compared to five male assistant professors. Also, the only two people to receive tenure so far this year – David Barron, an assistant professor at HLS since 1999, and John Manning, a visiting professor at HLS last year – were both men.

This has led many students to question the Law School’s commitment to retaining a diverse faculty. “I’ve noticed that precious few classes next year are being offered by female professors, assistant or full,” commented 2L Lee Rowland, a reporter for The Record. “We absolutely need more women if Harvard is ever going to shake loose its misogynistic old boys’ club tradition,” said Jennifer Chong, 2L.

Another fact students find troubling is that both Schlanger and Bagenstos taught courses on civil rights law, including courses in Prisoners Rights, Equal Protection, Civil Rights Litigation, and Disability Law. These courses, along with those of longtime civil rights advocate Prof. Christopher Edley, Jr., who also recently announced his departure from HLS, will not be replaced in the fall. “Losing these three professors at the same time is a real blow,” noted 3L Eloise Pasachoff, who called Civil Rights Litigation, “one of the highlights of my HLS experience.” Dena Shorago added, “They both had real world experience working for the Department of Justice. My whole problem with law school is that it doesn’t teach you to be a lawyer, it teaches you to be an academic. Their departure will be a huge blow to HLS.”

Still, some students felt that these departures would not have such a great effect. “Even without Edley, Bagenstos and Schlanger, HLS will still have a tremendous amount of resources for students wishing to study Civil Rights law,” wrote 3L Jocelyn Benson. “I also think that other schools such as Berkeley and Washington University do not have as many resources for students studying Civil Rights, so perhaps we can also stand to share the wealth a little.”

Some faculty members privately expressed concerns that recent changes to the tenure process, put into place by President Summers, might hinder efforts by the Law School to recruit a more diverse faculty. Before Summers took office, a two-thirds vote of the faculty was almost assured to lead to a tenure appointment. However, Summers stated in a New York Times article last summer that the Law School has made “idiosyncratic choices,” in choosing faculty in the past, leading to “concerns about inbredness [sic], political correctness, and a lack of intellectual energy.”

Breaking from the practice of previous presidents, who would generally rubber stamp faculty tenure decisions, Summers forms an “ad hoc committee” to review each candidate who the faculty approves for tenure. The Harvard Crimson has reported that these committees consist of experts from outside the Law School, who review applicants and make recommendations to Summers for his final vote. The Crimson called these changes “a push by Summers for greater uniformity in appointment processes across the University,” as this review process is already used for candidates in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, though one HLS professor said she hoped Summers would also realize that the Law School faculty has always been very different from the rest of the University.

The Dean is an ex oficio member of Summers’ ad hoc committee, and she “fully discusses the case with the President before a decision is reached,” according to Law School Director of Communications Michael Armini. Prof. Martha Field, who was the second woman to receive tenure at HLS, said that she worried that the ad hoc committee, by adding another layer to the bureaucratic process, would naturally make the Law School more conservative before sending candidates to the President to be considered for tenure. One irony of these changes is that Summers himself has said that he wants to make the recruitment of younger faculty a priority (Summers himself came to teach at Harvard in 1983 when he was 28 and, at the time, he became the youngest faculty member in the history of the university to receive tenure). As a recent Wall Street Journal article recently noted, the ad hoc committee may do exactly the opposite, as outside experts will likely be less familiar with young faculty.

None of the departing HLS junior professors were ever referred to President Summers for a vote, nor were they explicitly denied tenure by a vote of the Law School faculty. Bagenstos, an assistant professor since 2000 and the most junior of the three, had not yet even been considered by the faculty promotions committee. However, both Ring and Schlanger had met with this committee and apparently both felt it would be best to accept tenured positions at other law schools rather than continue through the tenure process at HLS.

Students generally seemed to feel that tenure decisions are best left to the faculty. “Students aren’t the best people to judge intellectual prowess. They can judge teaching, but not scholarly work,” said Paton-Walsh, “but I think this is about openness. Why is it that one of our favorite professors at the Law School is leaving?”

None of the three departing professors wished to be interviewed for this article.

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