HLS Affinity Groups Endorse Professor Wilkins for Dean

Dear President Faust,

Thank you for including student input in your search for the next Dean of Harvard Law School. We write you as student leaders from the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA), Harvard Black Law Students Association (HBLSA), Harvard African Law Association (HALA), Lambda, La Alianza, Middle East Law Students Association (MELSA), Native American Law Students Association (NALSA), Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC), South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA), and Women’s Law Association (WLA). It is difficult to calculate the number of unique individuals we represent due to the intersecting identities of some of our members, but our combined membership totals at least 700 students, which is about 40% of the J.D. student body.[1]

Collectively, we wholeheartedly offer our endorsement of Professor David Wilkins, a scholar, a researcher, an innovator, and a member of the Harvard Law School faculty. While we do not know the list of candidates under your consideration, we sincerely believe that Professor Wilkins has demonstrated a strong commitment to innovative legal thought, a deep understanding of the legal profession and legal education, and an unwavering commitment to equality and justice in the rule of law. His lived experience and nuanced understanding of the power of discourse puts him in a unique position to lead Harvard Law School into arguably one of the most crucial chapters in our school’s two-hundred-year history.

Harvard University has an obligation to the world to produce and promote leadership in the face of ongoing global struggle. We are living in a time of social, economic, and political upheaval that challenges the integrity of the values that underpin our democracy. As Dean Minow noted, “current challenges demand nimble and yet well-designed responses.”[2] Professor Wilkins offers a keen and uniquely nuanced eye to the challenges we face and will lead the school into a third century focused on inclusive, transparent, and effective education that catapults lawyers and new voices into the world’s leadership. We, as a University, as a Law School, and as a distinctly privileged group of individuals, cannot afford to squander the opportunity to appoint Professor David Wilkins as Dean of Harvard Law School.

I. A Visionary Leader

The next Dean of Harvard Law School must effectively communicate a vision and lead our campus toward the daily execution of the school’s mission to “[t]o educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.” To be an effective visionary and leader, the next Dean must clearly define what it means to “contribute to the advancement of justice” and pursue concrete initiatives that will “educate leaders” who will advance that definition of justice.

  1. The Dean must be a leader committed to innovation in education.

Educating the world’s leaders requires a conscious effort to ensure that students leave with a broader vision of how to use their law school degrees for change. Our legal education must nurture intellectual talents, confidence, and capabilities so we are equipped to keep pace in a complex market and world. It is no longer enough to solely rely on professional templates. Our Dean must anticipate and engage with the empirical data illustrating the challenges facing our profession and our attorneys. Yet, it is not just about improving the paths that we are familiar with. Our Dean, in recognizing the unprecedented climate that we now inhabit, must fully appreciate the external forces the require us to answer innovative calls to action.

We require someone who will embrace campus initiatives that channel student potential into non-traditional legal paths like political representation, policy work, socially responsive start-ups, and more. Educating leaders must include not only rigorous legal training, but the encouragement of brilliant legal minds into a variety of career paths. Professor Wilkins is the person to guide this maturation because he has cultivated this level of awareness through his founding and directing the Center for Legal Profession. This center is the only place on campus with a comprehensive understanding of the J.D. lifecycle and the most imminent needs of practitioners across the globe. The conversation surrounding globalization, diversity, and technological innovation can only be led by someone who has dedicated his or her career to studying the profession holistically, rather than through a single lens.

  1. The Dean must be a leader committed to diversity and inclusion of faculty appointments, scholarship, and curriculum.

To “contribute to advancing justice” the Dean must also be a leader committed to diversity and inclusion. Harvard must be committed to placing women, LGBTQ individuals, and people of color in leadership positions. A Dean must actively confront the assured impact that sex, gender, race, class, nationality, parenthood, disability, and more have on the professional landscape. These disparities are not isolated to certain practice areas— they can be seen everyday on the HLS campus. Currently, out of 86 tenured Professors of Law, there are only 9 Black, 1 East Asian, and 2 South Asian individuals.[3] Female Professors of Law, who include African American and East Asian individuals, number 20. There are no Latinx tenured faculty members. Any institutional commitment to diversity must transcend the student body and permeate into our faculty and administration. Placing professors with diverse identities and socioeconomic backgrounds in front of students at HLS encourages the discussion of different views that shape the motivated reasoning behind legal decisions and emphasizes the importance of different perspectives in shaping the law. It also demonstrates to women, students of color, LGTBQ students, first-generation students, and low-income students that their identities are seen, reflected, and valued by Harvard. The Dean must be open to leading an effort to promote hiring of diverse faculty members and critically examine the past hiring trends of the law school. The Dean must articulate clear hiring standards for entry and lateral candidates, and include accessibility for students and effectiveness of classroom engagement among these standards. The Dean must also allow for student input in the hiring process similar to the innovations at some of our peer law schools.

In addition, Harvard Law School must be committed to producing cutting-edge scholarship in fields such as reproductive justice, critical race theory, and law and sexuality. No non-visiting faculty at Harvard Law School are currently dedicated to teaching and researching gender and sexuality law beyond the world of Title IX. Moreover, we want our engagement with this diversity to begin 1L year, to be something that is integrated into our curriculum rather than relegated to electives, which are taught by visiting professors and which have incredibly long wait lists. The long wait lists not only demonstrate the importance the student body places on — as well as the demand they have for — these topics. They also limit the engagement with these visitors to very few students. Neglecting to offer this type of coursework bars us from the “cutting edge” of critical legal theory and practice — we are not prepared to tackle the complex and intersectional realities that we now face.

The Dean must have a proven track record of innovating in the classroom. As one of the first professors to teach the Problem Solving Workshop, Professor Wilkins has demonstrated a commitment to address the ever-growing concern that new lawyers lack the practical skills needed to be successful associates. Professor Wilkins has adapted his own courses to meet the needs of a changing student body and legal profession. He incorporates skills-based learning modules and invites practitioners from diverse legal fields to guest lecture in order to expose his students to the workforce they will soon be entering.

II. A Transparent and Inclusive Leader

The Harvard Law School community deserves a Dean that is not afraid of examining the structural chaos that occurs when student organizations and the administration do not communicate with each other. To build a community of openness and dialogue, transparency into decision making and inclusive communication with the student body are key.

  1. The Dean must be transparent and work to breakdown barriers and silos to help the law school realize synergies and potential.

Transparency builds trust. The Dean must be a manager who understands the different roles Assistant Deans and officers have at this school, and knows how to build bridges between disciplines and departments. Information about the changes at the Law School, such as the timeline of the development of the Crest, the purposes and goals of Dean’s Task Force on Academic Community and Student Engagement, and the hiring and invitation process of faculty members, would build trust between the Administration and the student body. This sharing of information, both about the Administration’s goals and limitations, can build a sense of shared purpose and team building that would further the impact of Harvard Law School’s programs. Professor Wilkins has demonstrated a deep understanding and appreciation for creating and sustaining community among the alumni as evidenced by his creation of the Celebration of Black Alumni. Under Professor Wilkins leadership, the first Celebration of Black Alumni brought 600 black Harvard Law alumni back to campus. Over the course of the weekend alumni were able to celebrate, reconnect, and discuss how they can continue to effect positive change in the black community. He recognized the importance of an event of this nature and as such has continued to host these celebrations every five years.

  1. The Dean must inspire and understand the Student Body.

The Dean must also connect with the student body through active and continuous, rather than passive and reactive, communication. The Dean of Harvard Law School should not be afraid to take a stance when world events affect the student body, the community, or Harvard Law School’s stated mission. At all times, the Dean must recognize that we are not operating in a normal political and legal climate. The Dean must therefore provide a space on campus to allow students and community members to take their own positions and actions. We ask that you appoint a leader who will be accessible to student groups and listen, digest, and integrate student perspectives to create solutions. In short, a Dean should be comfortable creating a culture of working with, rather in spite of, students, to best situate the University at the forefront of the “cutting-edge” programs.

Connecting with the student body requires that a Dean have lived experiences and dedication to diversity, gender equity and inclusiveness. Professor Wilkins’ longstanding commitment to understanding the role of race, class, and gender in the legal profession is a constant theme throughout his scholarship. From his 1996 California Law Review article, “Why Are There So Few Black Lawyers in Corporate Law Firms?,” to his 2016 book, Diversity in Practice: Race, Gender, and Class in Legal and Professional Careers, Professor Wilkins has never stopped examining how the legal profession can truly embrace diversity and not just have a “commitment to diversity.” In addition to surveying the current landscape he probes the efficacy of arguments like “diversity is good for business” as a tool to persuade corporate law firms to embrace diversity. Promoting an individual with a track record of such dedication and an ability to respond to different perspectives is essential to our growth and identity as a haven for academic exploration. In addition, the Dean must support and include Harvard Law School’s initiatives to support the wider community. This includes increased funding for Clinics and Student Practice Organizations, like the Immigration clinic and Harvard Legal Aid Bureau as well as new student groups such as Students for Inclusion. HLS must also look for volunteer opportunities to engage diverse groups in the wider Boston area. In order to be innovative, our student-led solutions must be encouraged and chartered through the institution’s support and resources.

III. An Advocate for Students

Serving students is a priority that the new Dean must keep in mind. Student groups, including those in the Affinity Coalition, currently provide the bulk of on-campus activity through workshops, lunch talks, conferences, networking events, and more. The Dean must recognize the incredible amount of work that student groups put into programming and providing professional development opportunities for their members. Increased funding and support for student groups such as providing office space are part of this needed support.

  1. The Dean must be committed to student success.

The Dean must take seriously the progress of students once admitted into school. Men and women enter the law school with similar intellectual talents and capabilities and women are currently 51% of the class, yet women leave the school less likely to have received Latin honors and federal clerkships. These items have lasting repercussions on the gender equity numbers across the legal profession. Professor Wilkins has studied these repercussions and the status of women in the legal profession in The Women and Men of Harvard Law School: The Preliminary Results from the HLS Career Study published in 2015. His engagement in the first systematic empirical study to gain information on career trajectories and why women leave the legal field in alarming numbers represents his foresight and understanding of how law school and the legal field relate. His scholarship is educational, valued, and sought after by alumnae.

  1. The Dean must be committed to student inclusion and belonging.

The Dean must also take seriously the needs of inclusion and respect within the HLS community. These include the needs of students inside the classroom, however seemingly minor, such as having their gender respected and ethnic names properly pronounced. In his own 1L PSW classroom, Professor Wilkins takes the initiative to ask students to provide him with their preferred gender pronoun, preferred name, and name pronunciation before the course begins. He makes it a point to learn something about each 1L student beyond their name so they feel valued in his classroom.

These needs also include having adequate support and awareness of mental health issues on campus. In a profession where depression among law students grows from 8-9% prior to matriculation to 27% after one semester and 34% after 2 semesters, the Dean must be committed to reevaluating the mental health support system available at HLS and be open to dialogue to reduce stigma, provide clarity to elevate understanding of bar admissions requirements, and increase access to services by addressing the long wait for HUHS providers.

To address the complex democratic climate, rapidly changing legal profession, and community-based challenges at Harvard Law School, Harvard University must name a Dean who is a visionary and a fearless leader, who values transparency and inclusiveness, who is a seasoned educator and understands the challenges facing the legal profession and the rule of law, and whose life’s work supports students and alumni/ae alike. An institution of Harvard’s caliber cannot relinquish its obligation to provide a leader who will push the school to its potential as an innovator and as a beacon of hope for the rule of law.

We wholeheartedly offer our collective endorsement of Professor David Wilkins for the next Dean of Harvard Law School.

Sincerely,

Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA)
Harvard Black Law Students Association (HBLSA)
Harvard African Law Association (HALA)
Lambda
La Alianza
Middle Eastern Law Students Association (MELSA)
Native American Law Students Association (NALSA)
Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC)
South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA)
Women’s Law Association (WLA)

Authored by:
Amanda Chan, APALSA
Amanda Lee, WLA
Kezmen Clifton, HBLSA, WLA
Kristin Turner, HBLSA
Mariel Hooper, Lambda
Natalie Vernon, WLA
Stephanie Jimenez, La Alianza

[1] This percentage is based off the total number of J.D. students listed in the ABA 2015 Standard 509 report, accessible at: https://hls.harvard.edu/content/uploads/2015/12/2015-ABA-Standard- 509-Report.pdf

[2] http://hls.harvard.edu/about/deans-welcome

[3] These numbers are based on the full-time, tenured faculty listed on the HLS Faculty Directory. They do not include Professors Emeriti, Assistant Professors of Law, Clinical Professors, Assistant Clinical Professors, Professors of Practice, Visiting Faculty, or Lecturers. http://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/

 

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