Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kagan's time as dean of Harvard Law

The WSJ writes about Elena Kagan's tenure ad dean of Harvard Law School. Apparently, the Obama administration believes that this experience demonstrates that she has the ability to build consensus within conferences of the nine Supreme Court justices.
White House aides say the president concluded from her ability to build consensus across ideological lines at Harvard that she could become a leader on a divided Supreme Court.

Ms. Kagan recruited prominent conservatives, as well as liberals, to the faculty, invited prominent conservatives to speak on campus and publicly praised the conservative Federalist Society.
But does common politeness to conservatives really constitute the ability to build consensus? And was she really the one who was responsible for such achievements?
But the case for Ms. Kagan as the primary healer on the once-divided campus is sometimes overstated. Much of the work to defuse the bitter atmosphere, which included ideologically driven standoffs over whom to hire, took place under Ms. Kagan's predecessor, Robert Clark, dean for 14 years. He calmed tensions and expanded the faculty.

Those trends accelerated under Ms. Kagan's leadership. Charles Fried, solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan and a Harvard Law faculty member since 1961, said Mr. Clark "was trying, but it was a struggle every time." Ms. Kagan, he said, "was just incredibly politically skillful" at recruitment and at selling faculty on her choices.
So what were the great things she did to make the faculty so happy?
He also credits her with arranging a faculty lounge so it offered free lunch and large tables, where faculty could sit and get to know one another. "It was an absolute stroke of genius," Mr. Fried said.

She was helped by flush times at Harvard. She hired 43 faculty members during her tenure and boosted the total number of full-time professors from 81 to 104, a growth spurt partly enabled by a thriving endowment. She also benefited from a record-setting $476.5 million fund-raising drive that began under Mr. Clark, which she brought to a successful conclusion.

More money makes hiring easier, because one appointment isn't seen as a trade-off for another, Mr. Clark said in an interview. "When the pie is bigger, people get a little happier," he said.
Ah, she raised enough money to give these well-paid professors free lunches and to allow them to hire a lot more professors. She hired 43 faculty members of which three are known as conservatives. It shows how pitiful circumstances are on campuses that conservatives are happy about three out of 43 appointments.

The article goes through some other accomplishments from time as dean and it seems that she worked very well with the faculty to negotiate some tough questions facing the school such as whether they should move to a new location. And she was popular with the students, again by giving them stuff. That always seems to make people popular.
Beyond the political atmosphere, Ms. Kagan is credited with improving student life through upgrades to the physical campus, such as a revamped student center, an upgraded gym and an ice-skating rink that doubled as a volleyball court. And she offered small things, like free coffee outside classrooms and free tampons in the women's restrooms.
And she was welcoming to students and made herself available to talk with them.

And, once again, conservatives are so happy that she provided normal courtesy to their presence on campus.
Will Scharf, who just finished his second year at Harvard Law, said he chose the school because he felt he would be more welcomed there as a conservative.

He is now president of the campus chapter of the Federalist Society and recalled the annual parody show in early 2009, when Ms. Kagan was preparing to leave Harvard to become solicitor general. The show's theme was that Ms. Kagan was on a quest to become a Supreme Court justice.

After one performance, Ms. Kagan took to the stage and said she would miss all her students, and then mentioned that it was the Federalist Society's designated night at the show.

"She said, 'I'll especially miss you,' " Mr. Scharf remembered, "to raucous applause of course."
That's all very well and she seems like a nice woman and good dean. However, none of these accomplishments indicate anything about what her skills would be on the bench. The fact that she wasn't spitting mean to conservative students and hired three professors just means that she is a decent person who also realized that a law school has to be at least somewhat welcoming to a major ideological group in the country.

Republicans in the Senate shouldn't accept the premise that being a personable leader at Harvard Law School has anything to do with whether she should be confirmed to the Supreme Court. They might not have the votes to prevent her ascension, but they at least should take this opportunity to explore her judicial philosophy and to once again provide a tutorial for the American people on what such a philosophy entails and means.