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Harvard Law Dean Steps Down to Teach

By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 06, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When Elena Kagan left Harvard to become a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Martha Minow had a tough act to follow as the new dean at Harvard Law School.

That was eight years ago, longer than Minow expected to serve as dean. Now, after weathering financial and enrollment problems that challenged many law schools, Minow is returning to her duties as a professor.

"Leading this institution for the last eight years has been an extraordinary honor and opportunity for daily learning (inspiring me to serve well beyond my initial intention of five years!)," she wrote to her friends and colleagues on Tuesday.

"Profound Changes"

Minow, who joined the faculty 36 years ago, said she will return to full-time teaching at the law school. "It is to that work of teaching and scholarship, and to more robust engagement with the significant issues of the day, that I will return fully this July," she said.

In a written response, Harvard President Drew Faust thanked Minow for her service and welcomed her back as a faculty member. He said she had strengthened the law school's finances, improved student resources and led the way in globalization and digitization.

"She has championed public service and drawn attention to the interests and needs of under-served populations, while energizing the interplay of theory and practice during a time of profound changes in the legal profession," he said.

Enrollment, Finances and More

Minow survived a tenure marked by a national recession, which took a toll on law schools. Enrollment dropped by 30% across the nation, affecting finances and ranking even at Harvard. The New York Times, citing higher tuition and declining job markets, called it a crisis.

Harvard was also caught up in debates over free speech, sex, and race. Following protests on campus last year, Minow said the law school would no longer use the crest of an 18th-century slaveholder who played a key role in the school's history.

Meanwhile, Minow was credited with recruiting a diverse and world-class faculty and staff. She expanded the loan repayment program for students seeking lower-paying public service jobs, and established fellowships for students to pursue public service careers.

President Faust now has the tough task of finding a replacement dean.

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