Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
December 17, 2003:
Head of the class
Elena Kagan 81 becomes first female Harvard law dean
Elena Kagan 81 went to law school by default. After spending
two years at Oxford as a Sachs Scholar, I didnt know
what else to do, she admits. But she quickly fell in love
with the law as a student at Harvard Law School. And after a career
that took her from a Supreme Court clerkship to the White House
and back to Harvard, where she has taught since 1999, Kagan is the
law schools first woman dean.
Kagan, who started July 1, says that her appointment shows how
the law school, and the legal profession, have changed for women.
Harvard Law School first admitted women 50 years ago, but in the
early coed years women often were not treated very well,
and were ostracized and ignored in class, she says.
Her breadth of experience in the public and private sectors, and
in academia, will influence her tenure as she manages a top law
school with some 1,800 students. As a young lawyer clerking for
Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, she spent her days discussing
pertinent legal questions with a hero of modern American history.
He remains a constant inspiration to me, says Kagan,
who majored in history at Princeton and was a litigator for the
Washington, D.C., firm Williams & Connolly. Her work in the
public sector continued in the Clinton administration when she served
as associate counsel and deputy assistant to the president for domestic
policy, and solidified her opinion that public service ought to
be an integral part of any legal career. Our students ought
to say, How can I take all this experience and knowledge that
I have about legal rules and institutions and find a way to give
back to the public? she suggests.
In addition to hiring faculty, setting the curriculum, and overseeing
student life issues, Kagan, an expert in administrative law
law governing the operations of federal administrative agencies
is leading a small reading group this fall. Says Kagan: Teaching
is a way for administrators to keep in touch with their students.
By Kathryn Beaumont 96
Kathryn Beaumont 96 is a freelance writer in Cambridge,