Campus & Community

Kagan named next dean of Law School:

6 min read

President Summers appoints leading scholar of administrative law to post

Elena Kagan smiling
Newly appointed Law School Dean Elena Kagan walks into an exuberant faculty/student reception in her honor. (Staff photos by Justin Ide)

Professor of Law Elena Kagan will be the next dean of Harvard Law School, President Lawrence H. Summers announced last week.

A leading scholar of administrative law, Kagan has served on the faculties of both Harvard Law School and the University of Chicago Law School, in addition to holding senior legal and policy positions in the federal government. An alumna of Harvard Law School and a former law clerk to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall, Kagan will succeed Robert C. Clark, the Royall Professor of Law, who in November announced plans to conclude his service as dean on June 30 following 14 years of distinguished service.

“Elena Kagan is an imaginative scholar, a gifted teacher, a public-spirited lawyer, and an energetic leader admired for her sound judgment and her capacity to inspire trust,” said Summers. “She understands both legal academia and legal practice, and has excelled in both domains. She enjoys broad respect among her colleagues and students, and she combines exceptional intelligence with a remarkable ability to bring people together around issues of academic and institutional importance. At a time when legal education faces intriguing questions, and when the legal profession confronts profound changes, I have every confidence that her talents will advance Harvard Law School’s vitality as a place of learning, and carry forward its leadership role in the world of law.”

“I am honored and thrilled to become the next dean of Harvard Law School,” said Kagan. “I am grateful to Larry Summers for his vote of confidence, and I share the whole school’s gratitude to Bob Clark for his extraordinary record of accomplishment. Starting from as secure a foundation as any dean could hope for, I look forward to working with faculty, staff, and students to make the Law School greater still.

“Together, we can work to attract scholars engaged in the most exciting and important research, ensure that our educational programs are the best they can be, enhance our sense of community and our collective intellectual life, and strengthen ties to the profession, including through the promotion of public service,” Kagan said. “In a new century, and in a time of change and challenge for lawyers around the world, Harvard once again has the opportunity to define excellence in legal education. I can’t wait to start.”

At the Law School, Kagan teaches administrative law, constitutional law, and civil procedure. Her recent scholarship focuses primarily on the role of the president of the United States in formulating and influencing federal administrative and regulatory law. Her 2001 Harvard Law Review article, “Presidential Administration,” was honored as the year’s top scholarly article by the American Bar Association’s Section on Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice, and is being developed into a book to be published by Harvard University Press. Kagan has also written on a range of First Amendment issues, including the role of governmental motive in different facets of First Amendment doctrine, and the interplay of libel law and the First Amendment. Her works in progress include a new casebook on administrative law.

Kagan,  President Summers, current dean
At the Law School, Kagan talks with President Summers (left) and outgoing dean Robert C. Clark.

In 2001-02, Kagan chaired Harvard Law School’s locational options committee, leading faculty colleagues in an intensive exploration of the potential advantages and disadvantages of various future physical planning scenarios for the school. She also serves as a member of the Law School’s entry-level faculty appointments committee.

“I am absolutely delighted by this news, both for Elena Kagan and for Harvard Law School,” said Clark of his designated successor. “Elena has a first-rate mind, she has the respect and admiration of people across the School, and she’s an extraordinary scholar, teacher, and institutional citizen, as well as an accomplished public servant. The Law School will be in excellent hands, and I look forward to helping ensure the smoothest possible transition.”

Kagan launched her scholarly career at the University of Chicago Law School, where she became an assistant professor in 1991 and a tenured professor of law in 1995. She served on the School’s faculty appointments committee, and in 1993 she received the graduating students’ award for teaching excellence.

From 1995 to 1999, Kagan served in the White House, first as associate counsel to the president (1995-96) and then as deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy and deputy director of the domestic policy council (1997-99). In those positions she played a key role in the executive branch’s formulation, advocacy, and implementation of law and policy in areas ranging from education to crime to public health. Kagan returned from Washington to Harvard Law School, where she became a visiting professor in 1999 and professor of law in 2001.

Kagan received her bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Princeton in 1981. She attended Worcester College, Oxford, as Princeton’s Daniel M. Sachs Graduating Fellow, and received the M.Phil. in 1983. She then attended Harvard Law School, where she was supervising editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude in 1986. She was a law clerk for Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, then for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. She worked as an associate in the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly from 1989 to 1991 before joining the University of Chicago Law School faculty.

In 1999, at the age of 39, Kagan was nominated to serve as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, commonly considered the nation’s second most influential court. Her nomination was among those that the Senate Judiciary Committee declined to bring forward for a hearing late in the Clinton administration, and it expired when Congress adjourned in the fall of 2000.

In announcing Kagan’s appointment, Summers expressed appreciation to the many members of the Harvard Law School community who provided advice during the four-month search. “Faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others have all been very generous with their candid and constructive counsel about the school and its next dean, and I’m very grateful to all of them,” he said. “I especially want to thank the members of the faculty advisory group for the search, whose thoughtful and collegial advice was instrumental to an excellent outcome.

“Finally, as we congratulate Elena Kagan and look ahead,” Summers added, “I want again to express my deepest gratitude to Bob Clark, whose outstanding service as dean over 14 years has done so much to strengthen Harvard Law School and to pave the way for continued leadership and success.”