Martha Minow on Harvard Law School’s challenges, accomplishments

BY JENNY PAUL

Dean Martha Minow

Dean Martha Minow took the helm of Harvard Law School at a time when a dwindling endowment and university-wide budget cuts have forced the school to employ cost-cutting measures.

Minow assumed the deanship on July 1, inheriting a much tighter budget than in years past. At the law school, each department had to trim its budget by 10 percent, after projections showed that the law school could expect to receive $10 million less from the endowment in fiscal year 2010 than it received in 2009, according to a July HLS press release. Howell Jackson ’82 was acting dean at the time the budget cuts and other staff reductions were announced.

Still, during her first months as dean, Minow has faced these challenges head on and has worked to address student concerns and create new programs tailored to meet student needs that have arisen as a result of the economic downturn.

“My goals are to help the Harvard Law School continue to be the leader in legal education in the world, which includes continuing to enhance the student experience, continuing to enhance the faculty, [and] managing during a turbulent economic time,” she said in an interview with the Harvard Law Record in November.

Although free coffee service was reduced at the beginning of the academic year, Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove announced in an e-mail in November that the school would make free coffee available in Lewis all day, indicating the change was made in response to student and faculty complaints. The all-day service supplements the free coffee in Pound and Austin halls in the morning and the free coffee available in the library during late evenings and weekends.

“We have a very active, terrific team here, and when students are unhappy about something, we try to respond,” Minow said. “Coffee was something I was deeply, personally involved in, and when students have a problem, we try to solve it.”

The ice skating rink that covered Jarvis Field during winter months in recent years has been one casualty of the budget cuts. Minow said she would be willing to talk to students who are upset about that change.

“I’d love to talk with them about that compared to other priorities,” she said.

Minow said the school also is committed to helping 3Ls and alumni who have not been able to find work during the economic downturn.

“I would say it’s all hands-on deck on this one – very, very active and vigorous,” she said.

HLS announced in October the creation of the Holmes Fellowship, which will give about 12 third-year students up to $35,000 to pursue public interest law in the year immediately following graduation, with priority given to students who show they have not been able to secure another source of funding or job.

In addition, Minow said OCS and OPIA are focusing on job fairs and career counseling, and she has been meeting with law firms and alumni to encourage them to hire HLS students.

“It was the theme of my conversations with alumni during reunions to increase their involvement in helping current students and also alums who are looking for jobs,” Minow said. “People were incredibly responsive and eager to help.”

Minow also said construction on the Northwest Corner project is ahead of schedule and under budget, although she cautioned that this could change. The Harvard Crimson reported that the university recently borrowed $480 million to fund capital expenses, including completion of the new law school facility. Current first-year students should still be able to move into the building during the spring of their 3L year, she said.

“I’ve had the great chance to tour the building,” Minow said. “It’s an extremely exciting space that is entirely student focused with all kinds of meeting rooms of different sizes and a great flow and a sense of a city with a central artery or a main thoroughfare. It’s going to be fantastic.”

Minow said her experiences since assuming the deanship have been “intense and busy and exciting.” Still, she said the thing she misses most about only having the responsibilities of a faculty member is controlling her own time and schedule.

“I don’t do that anymore. Somebody else is in charge of my time,” Minow said. “But I would not for a minute give up the privilege and pleasures of working with students and teaching and writing. The reason I took on this job was to try to help other people and help students and faculty have the great opportunities that I’ve had.”

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