Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Long article in the always-excellent New York Times Magazine about the President of Harvard University, Larry Summers. For those interested, here's what it says about the law school:

(Interested parties may note the second half of the excerpt here, which says the law school isn't likely moving across the river to Allston. There are lots of people who seem to care deeply about this issue. I'm not one of them, and don't see how either the law school moving or not moving would affect my life. But nonetheless, this seems to be something some people are concerned about.)

"But Summers's most notorious power struggle came with the law school, and it wasn't over budget lines. Summers had identified Harvard Law as the one school most in need of presidential supervision, for despite its magisterial reputation it had been losing both students and scholars to other institutions. When Robert Clark, the school's longtime dean, agreed to step down, the faculty decided to appoint a committee to seek a successor. This was a transparent power play, for the appointment of a dean is arguably the most important power reserved to the president. The day the committee was to be established, Summers went to the law school and spoke to the entire faculty. According to one professor, Summers said flatly, ''The president is charged with sole responsibility to appoint a dean.''

The meeting degenerated into a series of angry exchanges. One veteran professor I spoke to denounced Summers as ''a control freak'' and mocked Summers's hierarchical ''Washington'' style. ''He doesn't give a damn what anybody thinks,'' said another professor. And Summers managed to make things worse by unintended acts of boorishness. He told a junior member of the law-school faculty that a question she had asked was dumb; surprised to hear later that the young woman was offended, he apologized grudgingly.

And yet Summers ultimately did what was widely perceived as the right thing. The search committee he appointed was respected within the law school. And Elena Kagan, a former Clinton administration official and recent arrival at the law school, whom he chose as dean (ultimately, the search committee was window dressing), was the one member of the faculty acceptable to virtually all parties. When I saw Summers recently, he said that not only the selection of Kagan but also the process of selecting her had led to a ''clearing of the air.''

This may be true. Martha Minow, a highly regarded member of the law-school faculty and one of the Summers skeptics, told me that the choice of Kagan showed that Summers had read the mood of the faculty very carefully. ''There's an extraordinary feeling of a new beginning at the law school right now,'' she said. Minow had also just come from listening to Summers address a conference on affirmative action, where he had delivered an endorsement of the process with which he had been grappling. That was a surprise. ''He is moved,'' Minow said, ''by powerful intellectual arguments.''


Summers also seems to have reached a decision about the new campus at Allston that is consistent with his vision of Harvard. The question of Allston is the question of what Harvard should be like in 20, 30, even 50 years. What is it that needs to be bigger? What needs to be next to what? Does proximity even matter? Soon after arriving, Summers concluded that Allston should serve as the home either of the professional schools, and above all the law school, or of the sciences. The law school devoted tremendous time and resources to demonstrating that moving it would be a catastrophic mistake. The various science faculties were more open to a move, if extremely wary. Summers says he will announce his decision in the fall, but according to several sources, he has in fact already essentially chosen to move the sciences (as well as some other facilities) to Allston -- a decision that will make an important statement about the future of the university. Summers will then have to make a series of incredibly complicated decisions, which boil down to: Which sciences will go, and where?"