An interesting article in the New York Observer credits Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan with creating a more ideologically open intellectual atmosphere at the school. Harvard once had the reputation that it was a hostile place for conservatives and libertarians. No longer. Among other things, the student Federalist Society chapter has an estimated 350 members — arguably making it the largest student group on campus. The story also reports that Dean Kagan has placed quality over ideology in faculty appointments — a push that resulted in the hiring of prominent conservative scholars John Manning an Jack Goldsmith.
What might have once been seen as an assault on the school’s values has been turned into a point of pride, according one Harvard Law School source, with professors heralding their willingness to make the recent hires—especially Messrs. Manning and Goldsmith—as proof of their liberal, tolerant mindset.
Which is precisely the point on which Ms. Kagan has successfully lobbied: It would be anti-intellectual to shut down the candidacy of a qualified conservative.
“We don’t look at politics,” Ms. Kagan insisted. “We figure that if we really go for the people who are doing the most interesting scholarship and who are the best teachers, we’ll get a pretty wide political cross-section—and indeed we have. We’re just looking for the best people, the best scholars, the best teachers.”
The effort has not been without its small struggles. There was a political flare-up when Mr. Goldsmith joined the faculty last fall, with faculty members airing their concerns about his alleged involvement with the infamous “torture memos” in The Boston Globe.
And when it later emerged that Ms. Goldsmith had, in fact, resigned because he objected to the administration’s permissive lines on torture, not all of his critics were placated. They saw echoes of the administration’s position in his scholarship, which argues that that the United States isn’t always bound by international law.
It was Ms. Kagan’s public support of Mr. Goldsmith that effectively quelled the outcry.
In Mr. Manning’s case, it emerged that the changes at Harvard Law are hardly happening fast enough for some students.
When Mr. Manning joined the campus, the student-run Harvard Law School Record ran an editorial in support of his hiring: “At HLS, you can count the number of actively, politically conservatives [sic] on one hand and still have enough fingers left to flash a peace sign. On a campus filled by hundreds of instructors, is this really sufficient diversity?”
Sufficient or no, Harvard Law has changed since the days when . . . “[Reagan Solicitor General] Charles Fried was the only game in town.”
UPDATE: OOPS!!! I just saw that my co-blogger Orin beat me to the punch on the HLS story. It figures. After all, he actually went there.
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