An Interview with Dean Minow

Two weeks ago, The Record interviewed Dean Martha Minow for her thoughts on the Law School, women in the profession, and the Cubs. We were initially informed by the communications office that they objected to our publication of the interview, and we met with them and Dean of Students Marcia Sells last week to discuss the issue. Following that meeting, the communications office withdrew their objections. We are pleased to present our interview with Dean Minow, condensed and edited for clarity.

The Record: This is the first year in Harvard Law School’s history in which the entering JD class was more than 50% women. How did that end up happening and what do you make of it?

Dean Minow: We’ve made a lot of outreach efforts, and I’m happy with the results. These things do change from year to year though: last year’s LLM class was majority women, but this year it’s majority men.

R: Women still make up a minority of spots in the upper echelons of the legal profession. What do you think has to change before we make progress there?

M: From partnerships to professorships to the federal judiciary, we see this consistent low percentage of women, and it’s concerning. With the federal judiciary, President Obama has made a difference, but the numbers are still disappointing, and one of the problems is that the Senate won’t confirm his nominees. At firms, there’s still a focus on who are the rainmakers, and we need to push firms to recognize that excellence shows up in many ways.

R: HLS has changed the 1L orientation to focus more on issues of diversity, but one of the hardest things for people to do is to have those conversations with one another. How can students and HLS improve?

M: This is a question dear to my heart. I recently met with students from my constitutional law class to talk with them about this. And I don’t have all the answers. It’s a difficult time in this country, and people are worried they’re going to be charged with prejudice if they say the wrong thing. Or they might not want to say something because they understand they don’t understand. It’s not a problem that’s unique to Harvard Law School, and we need to keep experimenting to find more ways for people to encounter and discover one another.

R: In the Fisher v. University of Texas decision this summer, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action in universities. How do you see affirmative action’s role at HLS?

M: We have an admissions system that looks at a whole person. You can’t look at a whole person and not look at their race. We look at someone’s life experience, we look at what they’ve encountered, and we look at what they hope to do.

R: Many people are alarmed by the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency because many of his statements seem to indicate a willingness to flout domestic and international law, and because he has proposed policies that target specific demographic groups, such as immigrants and Muslims. How do you see the role of Harvard Law School in the event of a Donald Trump presidency?

M: I’ve been very open about this. I am a Democrat, but as dean, I’m not going to discuss my personal politics. There are Trump supporters among the students and on the faculty.

R: Having been a Harvard Law professor for many years, what have you learned since becoming dean?

M: I have much more compassion for people in other positions of power now. People in positions of leadership have to keep much information confidential.

R: Have you read the Harvard Magazine article on “The Purpose of Harvard Law School” that was published this summer?

M: I’ve seen it. You can’t really call it an article. It was an editorial, and there were many inaccuracies in it. No law school has done more for the public interest than Harvard. That’s why we have the Low Income Protection Program, that’s why we have the clinical programs. There are arguments for and against a clinical requirement, but the faculty has rejected it. We make the opportunities available for those who want to take advantage of them. I support the pro bono requirement, and we’ve increased our pro bono requirement this year from 40 to 50 hours. The average student does over 500 hours, so this is not a hard commitment to meet.

R: The 1L international law classes have mixed reviews. What’s HLS doing to improve those classes?

M: The 1L international law requirement has been around for 10 years now, and we’re always trying to making it better. We look at the reviews, and that affects who gets assigned to teach. And we’ll be trying to expand students’ options.

R: How do you feel about incorporating a history or legal history requirement into the 1L curriculum?

M: I don’t know about a requirement, but I believe history is very important. I was a history major myself! We’ve tried to emphasize the importance of history to the law through our hiring decisions. There’s a lot of collaboration and cross-hiring now between the law school and the Harvard History department.

R: Are you following the Cubs this year?

M: I’ve spent my life being disappointed, and it’s so awesome to finally see them doing so well.


Jim An and Brianna Rennix are 2Ls. They are the editors-in-chief of The Record.

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