Campus & Community

Robert Clark to conclude service as HLS dean

7 min read
Dean Robert C.
In his Griswold Hall office, Law School Dean Robert C. Clark stands in front of portraits of former HLS deans. (Staff photo by Stephanie Mitchell)

Robert C. Clark will conclude his service as dean of Harvard Law School at the end of the 2002-03 academic year, he announced Nov. 25.

An eminent scholar of corporate law who joined the Harvard law faculty in 1979 and became dean in 1989, Clark has guided the Law School through a dynamic period of faculty growth, curricular expansion, physical renewal, and financial strengthening. Most recently, he initiated and oversaw the strategic planning process that resulted in the faculty’s plan to restructure the experience of first-year law students, to launch a new pro bono program, and to build the Law School’s academic strength in a number of key areas.

“Harvard Law School is a very special institution, and its impact on the world is both great and good,” said Clark in a letter ( to the University community announcing his plans. “Serving as dean has been an indescribably meaningful and varied experience; I feel blessed. I am enormously grateful to all of you who have done so much to make the School what it is.”

Clark said he plans to return to active service on the Law School faculty following a sabbatical.

“The Law School has flourished under Bob Clark’s outstanding leadership,” said President Lawrence H. Summers. “In nearly 14 years as dean, he has devoted himself to strengthening the faculty, enriching the curriculum, improving the student experience, and enhancing the Law School’s physical and financial resources. Academic excellence has been his constant guiding light. He has encouraged the School to take a more international outlook while building its specialized programs of research, reinforcing its ties to the legal profession, and deepening its commitment to public service.

“Bob has done all this with intelligence, integrity, and a selfless dedication to the good of the institution,” Summers added. “As the longest-serving of Harvard’s current deans, he has also been an insightful and collegial participant in discussions of major challenges facing the University. For me personally, he has been, and will continue to be, a valued counselor and trusted friend. Harvard Law School is a stronger and better institution thanks to his excellent leadership, and all of us owe him our gratitude.”

Summers said that he would soon be appointing a faculty group to advise him on the search for Clark’s successor, and that he will be pursuing other avenues of broad consultation with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and others.

Next June will mark a natural changeover point for the Law School, Clark observed, as it launches the public phase of a fundraising campaign to support the goals of its strategic plan and as it enters a new phase of the plan’s implementation. Clark initiated the School’s comprehensive strategic planning process in 1998. The resulting plan, as shaped and ultimately approved by the faculty in late 2000, calls for major efforts to improve the quality of student life both inside and outside the classroom. It also emphasizes internationalization, interdisciplinary studies, closer connections to the legal profession, leadership training, and the innovative educational use of information technology.

The plan has already led to a major restructuring of the experience of first-year law students. Four sections of 140 students each have given way to seven “law colleges” of 80 students apiece. Each “college” has a faculty leader responsible for organizing intellectual and social events that complement the classroom experience. In addition, students are now assured of more systematic feedback on their work, and they participate in a new First Year Lawyering Program that supplements traditional academic studies with training in practical skills.

Another key element of the strategic plan, the pro bono program, is being launched this year. Other components of the plan are in various stages of progress, and some await new resources to be sought in the forthcoming campaign. During the past two years, Clark has worked to secure major initial commitments to this planned fundraising effort, with strong success.

Born in New Orleans in 1944, Clark originally studied for the priesthood, intending to be a foreign missionary. He graduated from Maryknoll College in 1966. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1971, and the J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1972.

After two years at the Boston firm of Ropes & Gray, he served on the Yale law faculty, rising to become a tenured professor. In 1979, he returned to Harvard Law School as a professor of law, and he was named Royall Professor of Law upon his appointment as dean in 1989. Clark’s scholarship has concentrated on corporate law, with a special interest in financial institutions. He is the author of numerous law review articles and book chapters, as well as the highly regarded treatise Corporate Law. His class on corporations was consistently rated one of the Law School’s most popular second-year courses. He has also taught corporate finance, theory of the corporation, taxation of corporations and shareholders, regulation of financial institutions, government and health care, and a seminar titled “Laws, Markets, and Morals.”

Clark is married to Kathleen Tighe Clark; they have two children, Alexander and Matthew. Among his hobbies is composing neoclassical music using synthesizers. He has been known to enliven his classes by occasionally breaking into song, such as his rendition of “Fraudulent Conveyances” sung to the tune of the Commencement hymn “Gaudeamus Igitur.”

Highlights of Dean Clark’s tenure

  • The appointment of 39 new members of the Law School’s tenured and tenure-track faculty, resulting in substantial growth of the core faculty (from 64 in 1989 to 81 today), together with the appointment of many outstanding visiting faculty, clinical instructors, and lecturers from practice;
  • enrichment of the curriculum, which now includes more than 250 elective courses and is unrivaled in depth and breadth among American law schools;
  • strengthening of key research programs in such areas as law and economics, human rights, negotiation, international finance, and East Asian legal studies;
  • introduction of new programs in such areas as empirical legal studies, Internet and society, civil rights, European legal studies, and Islamic legal studies;
  • enhancement of student financial aid programs, including the Law School’s innovative Low Income Protection Plan, which offers loan forgiveness to graduates pursuing public service jobs;
  • expansion of the School’s graduate program, which now enrolls 150 LL.M. students (from about 60 different nations) and 75 S.J.D. students (all in addition to the 1,650 students enrolled in the School’s principal degree program, leading to the J.D.);
  • major improvements to the School’s physical plant, including the construction of Hauser Hall, a new academic building; the acquisition of North Hall, a large dormitory; the opening of the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center, a major facility for the School’s largest clinical program; and the renovation of Austin and Areeda Halls;
  • the magnificently successful renovation of Langdell Library, widely considered the greatest academic law library in the world;
  • the completion in 1995 of what was then the largest fundraising campaign in the history of legal education, generating $183 million and far surpassing its initial $150 million goal;
  • receipt by the Law School of total gifts, for both current and capital purposes, that were four times greater than in the comparable prior period, and growth in the Law School’s endowment from $189 million in 1989 to $840 million as of June 30, 2002.