The Dean Search: An Open Letter from The Women’s Law Association to President Faust

Dear President Faust,

Thank you for welcoming the opinions of the law school community in your search for the next Dean of Harvard Law School. As a part of the law school community, the Harvard Women’s Law Association (WLA) is one of the largest and most active student organizations on campus. We are a diverse group dedicated to supporting women at the law school and beyond, and we wanted to share our collective vision for the future of our institution.

The selection of the next Dean will send a message about Harvard Law School’s mission and values that extends far beyond Cambridge. The next Dean needs to work to promote diversity and gender equality, social justice, innovation in legal education, student inclusiveness and community building, and transparency, and the message we send with this selection should emphasize a commitment to this work. We need a Dean who is committed to building upon the public interest work advanced by Dean Minow. We need an active leader who will lead the law school through a challenging political, social, and economic climate, and who will accelerate the mission “to educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.”

Commitment to Diversity and Gender Equality

The next Dean of Harvard Law School should advance the school’s commitment to diversity. Harvard continues to lag behind many of its peer institutions in terms of faculty diversity: the corporate law faculty is comprised exclusively of men, there are no Latinos or Latinas among the tenured faculty, there are no Native Americans among the tenured faculty, and only one of the seven Section Leaders is a woman. The Harvard Law School faculty should mirror the diversity of the student body, both to continue to attract the best students to the law school and to ensure students have supportive mentors and role models when they arrive.

Furthermore, while we applaud the successes Harvard Law School has had under the leadership of Justice Elena Kagan and Dean Martha Minow, we are disheartened that it took 186 years for a woman to stand at the helm of the law school—and that, after 200 years, no person of color has yet stood at that helm. With the selection of the next Dean, you have the power to make history, not just for Harvard Law, but for legal institutions and the entire legal profession.

Additionally, women enter Harvard Law School with comparable test scores, grades, and abilities to their male classmates. Yet women are less likely than men to become an editor of the Harvard Law Review, land a federal clerkship, or graduate with Latin Honors. In an analysis of the students graduating in 2015, WLA research found a statistically significant difference between the number of men and women graduating with Latin Honors after controlling for gender representation within the entire class, with women receiving 36.86% of total Latin Honors awarded and men receiving 63.14%.

Harvard Law School can no longer ignore the gender disparities in academic performance on its own campus; it must investigate and take action. The litany of recent New York Times articles on this subject explain the macro-level consequences of inaction in their titles alone: “More Law Degrees for Women, but Fewer Good Jobs,” “Women and Minorities Make Slow Progress in Filling Ranks at Law Firms,” “Female Law Partners Earn 44 Percent Less than Male Partners Survey Shows.” Thankfully, some of our peer institutions, including Harvard Business School have led the way in possible methods of addressing gender equity in the graduate school setting, and we should consider emulating and adapting these tactics to our community. For both women at Harvard Law School and for women in the legal profession, we must do better.

Therefore, the selection of the new Dean should embody Harvard’s commitment to expanding diversity among the law school faculty and student body. The new dean should make a serious commitment to actions addressing issues around diversity, including issues related to gender, race, class, and beyond.

Commitment to Social Justice

A Harvard Law School degree is powerful currency in today’s world. Unfortunately, the majority of this currency is concentrated in the private sector. For example, only 10% of the graduating class of 2015 entered public service. While the Office of Public Interest Advising, the Low Income Protection Plan, discounted bar review courses, the Public Service Venture Fund, and other initiatives launched under the leadership of Dean Minow have encouraged more Harvard Law graduates to join the public sector, we need a dean who will not only solidify but grow the institution’s support for much needed legal services.

As part of its efforts in facilitating entry into the public sector, Harvard should commit itself to combating the existing power imbalance in the application of the law and improving access to justice. While students may have direct client contact and may see the impact of the law first-hand by working in clinics and student practice organizations, Harvard should go beyond simply having a pro bono requirement (which can be fulfilled without direct services work) and should bring discussions of the legal imbalance into the classroom. In addition to expanding the upper-level course offerings for students who want to engage in this discourse, the new Dean of Harvard Law School should take action to reform and standardize the 1L curriculum to include discussion of the power imbalance of the law.

Finally, the new Dean of Harvard Law School should take a clear stance against misogyny and racism and encourage students and organizations to actively engage in conversations to combat systemic forms of oppression. The willingness of both the Law School and the broader University to sign on to litigation against President Trump is encouraging, but we recognize that there will be other moments when Harvard either cannot or will not take a similar stance. At those times, the next Dean of Harvard Law School should be transparent in sharing the reasoning behind that decision and should give the individual and collective members of the community the space to take their own positions and actions.

Therefore, you should name a Dean who will be committed to progressing social justice by expanding classroom discussion of the law’s disparate impact, increasing support for students entering the public service after graduation, and supporting efforts which combat societal and institutional oppression.

Commitment to Innovation in Legal Education

The needs and pressures of the legal community have changed significantly in the past few years. At the same time, the makeup of the Harvard Law School body has changed as well. Modifications to the 1L curriculum, such as the introduction of Legislation and Regulation, International Law, and Problem Solving Workshop, have attempted to address the needs of the changing legal world and the changing student body. The next Dean of Harvard Law School should continue to innovate and improve the law school curriculum. As discussed above, this innovation should include discussions of intersectionality and the disparate impact of the law, but it should also include even more access to practitioners and more opportunities to move the learning experience beyond the classroom.

Harvard Law School’s preeminence among the legal community means other institutions look to us to set the standard for legal education. We should use our status as a leader to innovate ways to improve access to and implementation of the legal education. The Dean should also expand the traditional boundaries of legal work by creating campus programs that channel student potential and interest in political representation, policy work, socially responsive start-ups, and other non-traditional legal paths.

Additionally, the WLA has benefitted greatly from our strong relationships with law school alumni. For example, the Harvard Law School Women’s Alliance (HLSWA) has been an invaluable resource for the women on campus and beyond. Dean Minow has continually identified and recruited women to visit our campus and encouraged students to form lasting relationships within our networks. The Dean should continue to build relationships outside of Cambridge and bring HLS alumnae in positions of power and leadership back to the school to mentor, teach, and inspire students.

Therefore, the next Dean of Harvard Law School should continue to innovate within the curriculum and develop opportunities for students to apply their skills to direct client services, policy work, political work, and more to help law students adapt and advance with the rapidly changing legal profession. To help drive adaptation and advancement, next Dean should also help students engage with alumni in a deep and meaningful way — a mission which necessitates the selection of an individual who has spent time cultivating relationships and is ready to connect students, faculty, and staff with the broader legal profession.

Commitment to Student Inclusiveness and Community Building

While Justice Kagan’s decision to eliminate traditional letter grades and refine the section model has likely increased the sense of camaraderie and inclusiveness at the law school, we still have much room for improvement. Speaking generally, those students who are lucky enough to be placed with an active section, with an attentive section leader, have the benefit of forming bonds that last beyond first year, stretching even past graduation. These model sections have enhanced the benefits of a diverse student body as they have forged a sense of trust among their members, facilitating conversations between individuals of different backgrounds, whether political, socioeconomic, religious, or academic. Through these conversations, students can truly learn from and draw upon each other’s experiences. This level of cohesion and engagement is particularly important as the community engages in dialogue in the midst of a trying political climate. Still, only a few sections enjoy this sense of camaraderie, and sections cannot and will not be the only solution to campus inclusion and community development. We need a Dean who will make cultivating community and encouraging students to engage with each other a top priority.

Therefore, you should name a Dean who will expand and continue to refine the section model and develop new, innovative approaches to develop deeper levels of inclusiveness, which will help to increase engagement and facilitate dialogue on difficult and contentious topics.

Commitment to Transparency

As students have attempted to improve the Harvard Law School experience, they have encountered unexpected barriers at almost every level, from IT improvements to Reclaim Harvard’s advocacy efforts. The unexpected manifestation of these barriers — and, at times, their seemingly insurmountable nature — has engendered distrust and frustration among the student body. Increased transparency regarding the role and limitations of the Dean, and transparency into the extent to which Harvard Law School is independent from the larger University, will help to increase trust and buy-in from the student body. This transparency should manifest as both enhanced individual accessibility to the Dean outside of class-related meetings and as visibility into the workings and priorities of the administration.

Therefore, you should name a Dean who is committed to working with students to reform the school and who will be open about the administration’s priorities and limitations.

Above all, Harvard Law School needs a leader. We need a visionary. We need someone whose lived experiences and life’s work emphasizes a commitment to diversity and gender equality, to social justice, to inclusiveness and community, to transparency, and to continuing innovation in the legal profession. Our country, our profession, and our justice system are all facing significant challenges, and the next Dean of Harvard Law School cannot afford to simply maintain the status quo.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to our organization at wla@lists.harvard.edu. You may find more information about our 176 board members on our website at https://orgs.law.harvard.edu/wla/. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

The Women’s Law Association

Harvard Law School


3Ls Jacqueline Trudeau and Natalie Vernon and 2Ls Paavani Garg and Amanda Lee drafted the letter, which was endorsed by the WLA Board.

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