For profs, revolving door between Harvard Law School and DC


Nearly a year and a half since Barack Obama ’91’s election as President of the United States, at least one Harvard Law School faculty member he recruited to serve on his administration is returning to Cambridge, while another is departing to serve in Washington.

Jody Freeman LL.M. ’91 S.J.D. ’95 worked in the White House as Counselor for Energy and Climate Change, but will now take up a formal appointment to an HLS chair named for former Solicitor General and Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox ’37. She will also return to her post as Director of the Environmental Law Program. She is scheduled to begin teaching again in Fall 2010. At the same time, famed constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe ’66 has joined a program that facilitates legal representation for the poor run out of the Department of Justice.

A considerable number of Harvard faculty members – many of whom were from HLS – left Cambridge in 2008 and 2009 to work for President Obama’s transition team or administrative positions. At the time, this newspaper editorialized the loss with headlines including “HL Exodus” and “Obama’s gain is Harvard’s drain”.

The most notable departures were those of Dean Elena Kagan ’86, who left to become Solicitor General, and Cass Sunstein ’78, who became head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Faculty members at HLS may take up to two years’ leave before facing a loss of tenure.

Freeman had always only planned to serve in the White House for about a year. She left an impressive record, having led the push for greater motor vehicle emissions standards. Georgetown Law Prof. Richard Lazarus ’79 told the Harvard Crimson he thought it was likely she would serve in a higher position – perhaps as administrator of the EPA – if Obama won a second term in office. As an academic, he said, Freeman faced fewer potential conflicts of interest than a private sector recruit.

Tribe, who employed Obama as a research assistant when the latter was at HLS, and who called the President the best student he’d ever had, is serving as counselor to the access to justice initiative while in Washington, a position he took up on March 1.

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