The Legal Beat
Now Would Be A Good Time For Harvard Law To Appoint Its First Dean Of Color
Posted on Wednesday January 04, 2017
Martha Minow, who has served as Dean of Harvard Law School since 2009, announced she is stepping down at the end of the academic year. You know what that means?
DEAN SEARCH TIME. At the end of the academic year, both Harvard and Yale will have open positions for law school dean. As per usual, I humbly submit my name for consideration.
Yale Law has had a dean of color before. Harold Koh served in the position from 2004-2009. Harvard Law hasn’t broken the color barrier yet (to my knowledge; the school is so damn old maybe they had one during Reconstruction or something). But its last two law deans have been women: Minow and current Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
Being the dean at a school like Harvard Law is a position of national prominence. You are an instant expert — and not just on issues of legal education; people will seek out your opinion on the proper function of law in society.
Right now, as we look down the barrel of an unprecedented attack on the rule of law emanating from the executive branch, it might be a good time to have a person in the prestigious role of Harvard Law dean who is ready to stand on principle. Right now, as diversity and inclusion has been roundly repudiated by 60 million Donald Trump voters, it might be nice if a so-called bastion of intellectual elites gave a person of color a shot at articulating the legal resistance to executive boorishness.
If Harvard Law wants to ride this bigoted, nativist wave out from behind the safety of its ivory tower, it can. Harvard Law will be here long after Trump, in whatever country we call ourselves by then. But the new dean will make a statement about what Harvard Law values during these evil times, one way or another.
And it’s not like HLS has been free of racial tensions. This is a school that spent the better part of a year fighting over the racism embodied by wheat. Going from the slaveholding Royall Crest to a minority dean would look like a lot of progress.
If HLS wants to go the person-of-color route, there is a plethora of qualified candidates. Somebody will surely kick the tires around the Obamas — both Obamas. Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama would be a mic drop of a choice for dean, though I can’t imagine that she’d be interested.
Charles Ogletree’s name will be bandied about, mainly because Ogletree’s name is in the dictionary next to “African-American Law Professor.” Lani Guinier is exactly the kind of academic I think would make a perfect choice. She’s got bona fides when it comes to using the law to resist.
But both Guinier and Ogletree are on the other side of 60, both older than Minow is now. A law dean is not a ceremonial position, and HLS still needs somebody who is going to connect with students. Let’s file this paragraph away under “ageist claptrap” and move on.
If you are looking for somebody younger, Kenneth Mack is sitting right there. And I feel he’s been Harvard Law’s “First African-American Dean In Waiting” for a while now. For the uninitiated, Mack’s scholarship is about Constitutional history and race which… SEEMS RELEVANT just at the moment.
Can he fundraise? Because make no mistake, among the many responsibilities for a law dean, “You can tattoo your name on my ass if your gift is big enough” is right up there. HLS will not name anybody as dean who they don’t believe can bank it. Then again, fundraising for HLS is not as hard as it is at some other schools. Put it like this: the people who donate to Harvard Law don’t want you to name the school after them, being associated with Harvard Law is what they’re paying for.
If they were to ask me (and I’ll note, they’re not), I’d go with Mack. As the federal government goes into “whites only” mode for a few years, other institutions of prestige and stature would do well to stand opposed.