Dean Kagan: Into our hearts and HLS history


The Dean’s waiting room
Kagan – Bye 01.jpg

What was it about Dean Kagan that made her such a lovable administrator? Was it her chutspa? Was it her sarcastic humor? Was it her sweet tooth? There are many reasons we will miss our departed dean, and her tenure will be remembered in HLS history as a period of rejuvenation. The reform of the law school’s curriculum and grading system, the recruiting of top names from across legal academia, the successful completion of the fund-raising campaign, the expansion of public service funding, and the execution of the ambitious Northwest Corner project will all leave a permanent mark on Harvard Law School and enshrine Dean Kagan as one of the school’s most historic figures. Let us also not forget that she was the school’s first female Dean.

Aside from these monumental achievements, next year’s 2L’s and 3L’s will also miss a certain je ne sais quoi that our eccentric Elena brought to campus life. Morning coffee, the construction snack cart, the Holmes field ice rink, and the bowl of candy in the Dean’s waiting room are just a few of the ephemeral indicia of Kagan’s presence that may or may not begin to fade into memory but which have certainly colored our experience of law school. Acting Dean Jackson has promised not to disturb some of the most sacred of Dean Kagan’s populistic party favors, but no degree of commitment to continuing the Kagan legacy can prevent the onset of the inevitable shift in atmosphere which accompanies a change in governance.

Next year’s 1L’s will enter Harvard Law School as the school itself enters a new era. Grading changes will have been solidified. The new curriculum has been road tested. Employment prospects will have changed to suit the economic downturn, making the Public Service Initiative a key factor in career planning. The endowment crunch will have created a new emphasis on budgetary discipline across the University, and a new dean will be selected to guide the school through these difficult times.Some professors who have departed, like Dan Meltzer, will be distant figures in Washington, and other academic all-stars will be the latest new hires. When Northwest Corner opens during their 2L year, these students will no doubt see a picture of the visionary dean who presided over the project’s initiation, but Elena Kagan will remain no more personally significant to those 1L’s than Robert Clark or James Vorenberg are to the current student body.

As each of us moves toward a career in the practice of law, let us take a moment to contemplate the completion of an important step in the career of a noteworthy woman. Dean Kagan made an impression on each of us in many ways, and as HLS continues to grow and change, she will remain forever a part of our experience of law school. Let us hope that in the post-Kagan era HLS will continue to be the more inclusive, informal, innovative and intimate institution which we came to know under our Dean.

Matthew W. Hutchins is a 2L and next year’s Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Law Record

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