Saturday, 2:15 PM
Harvard Law School braces for dean's move to Washington
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff
When Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan was passed over for the presidency of Harvard University nearly two years ago, law students and faculty threw a party in her honor to celebrate her staying on.
Faculty said Kagan helped foster an atmosphere of confidence and goodwill that will be difficult to replicate, and that despite the long-held rumors that she would be going to Washington, they are still coming to grips with the prospect of her departure.
"I think it's going to take a while to sink in," said Jonathan Zittrain, a professor whom Kagan recruited from Oxford University. "She made a really hard job look effortless."
Harvard University President Drew Faust, who will name Kagan's successor, praised Kagan's tenure.
"I want to take this moment to recognize Elena's extraordinary accomplishments since her appointment as dean in 2003,'' Faust wrote today in an e-mail the law school community. "Thanks to the efforts she has guided, the faculty is even stronger, the student experience is richer, the curriculum is fresher, and the school continues to enhance its worldwide leadership in legal education and scholarship."
Faust added she would be considering appointments of an acting dean and a full-time replacement. Through a spokesman, Faust declined to comment on potential successors to Kagan.
But the names of several Harvard Law School faculty members, including Martha Minow, David Wilkins, and Howell Jackson, were bandied about in academic circles today. Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former Harvard faculty member who is now dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, was also mentioned as a potential candidate.
Faust would likely tap a current administrator as acting dean to complete the academic year, although it would depend on the timing of confirmation hearings. An acting dean would in all likelehood not be a candidate for the permanent post.
Minow, while declining to comment on her prospective candidacy, said the same judgement and expertise Kagan displayed during "an extraordinary tenure" at Harvard "will make her a superb solicitor general."
Kagan has received widespread praise for her five-year tenure as dean. She is credited with a running a successful fund-raising campaign, markedly improving the quality of student life, and repairing relations among a fractious faculty.
She also helped bolster the faculty with a series of big-name hires, including Cass Sunstein and Lawrence Lessig, as part of a concerted effort to reinvigorate the school, which had come under criticism as complacent and underachieving.
Kagan, 48, served as a domestic policy and legal adviser in the Clinton White House. If confirmed, Kagan would serve as the Obama administration's advocate before the Supreme Court, a post that has served as a springboard to a Supreme Court nomination.
With a strongly Democratic Senate, her nomination is seen as secure and could come as soon as next month. Kagan, the first female dean at Harvard Law School, would be the first woman to hold the post on a permanent basis.
In an e-mail to the law school community, Kagan wrote that she was "awe-struck and excited" by the nomination, but also wistful at the prospect of moving on.
"At the same time, I feel today real sadness -- a sense of loss of what, if confirmed, I will be leaving that is every bit as strong as my sense of anticipation of what will be to come," she wrote.
If she is confirmed, Kagan said in the message, she will resign as dean and take a leave of absence from the faculty.
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