Obama’s gain is Harvard’s drain

BY

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama ’91 promised that his administration would not do much hiring from the Ivy League. Yet it was no surprise to learn that the Obama transition team would be composed primarily of Harvard academics and alumni – and was poised to hire many more.

The law school website brags that at least four of Obama’s HLS classmates are leading the transition, with several of his old professors working the sidelines. On Friday, a Boston Globe article blared that the university once derided by conservatives as the “Kremlin on the Charles” was poised to enjoy a degree of influence in Washington it had not enjoyed since the Kennedy years. HLS’ own Hauser Hall, it quipped, might as well have been one of Obama’s campaign outposts.

Among the campus luminaries most mentioned for departure to D.C. are Dean Elena Kagan ’86, a favorite for the Supreme Court, and Professor Cass Sunstein ’78, himself barely been back in Cambridge for three months. His new spouse, Samantha Power ’99, will most likely fly the Kennedy School coop as well, the calamities she caused during the campaign long since forgotten. A long list of K-Schoolers and economists may be joining her.

Law students may also have to bid farewell to Professor Charles Ogletree ’78, a longtime Obama supporter. Professor Elizabeth Warren is already providing advice to an Obama team eager to take on the financial crisis. Professors Laurence Tribe ’66 and Martha Minow appear likely to stay on, although they may be devoting more time lending their advice to the new administration – that is, if they’re not also up for seats on the nation’s highest bench.

Harvard should be proud to contribute so much of its expertise to an Obama administration. The impending appointments of so many Harvard affiliates are a reminder of our university’s continuing relevance in world affairs – and an inspiration for those who wish to use HLS as a launch pad for a career in public service.

But Obama won’t be able to build his brain trust without creating a brain drain from Harvard. We hope that the university takes care to ensure that the next generation of Harvard alumni are as well-taught as those who have benefited from the wisdom and experience of the academics who are likely to depart. For all that the Record occasionally criticizes the administration’s decisions, we have been grateful for Dean Kagan’s leadership. We hope that the strides the law school have made under her direction are neither stopped nor reversed in the event either of her absence – or of an exodus of her many distinguished hires.

It is with a mix of enthusiasm and regret, therefore, that we anticipate the Crimson tide about to engulf the White House and Capitol Hill. For we at HLS are best poised to know what the nation has to look forward to: a federal government that’s twice as efficient, thanks to Dean Kagan’s wise first ruling – that every employee be entitled to free coffee. If only we could transform the reflecting pools into ice rinks – on second thought…

For a closer look at some of the lesser-known Harvard Law School alums set to join Obama’s team, see our feature on his transition team in this issue.

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