Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Nell Jessup Newton, currently Dean of the law school at the University of Connecticut, will be the new Dean of the University of California, Hastings, from which she graduated nearly twenty years ago. The Hastings press release is here.
Dean Newton succeeds Mary Kay Kane, a leading authority on civil procedure, who was Dean for 13 years. During that time, Hastings recruited some leading "doctrinalists" (broadly construed), including Roger Park (evidence) from the University of Minnesota and, most recently, Geoffrey Hazard (legal ethics, civil procedure) from the University of Pennsylvania; the Hastings group in the civil procedure and evidence areas (Kane, Park, Hazard, Marcus, Faigman, among others) is now probably one of the two or three best in the country.
Like many large, state law schools, Hastings has been treated badly by U.S. News; probably only Wisconsin has fared as badly at the hands of the U.S. News criteria that reward a school for being small and private. U.S. News to the side, I've often heard folks remark that Hastings is an underperforming law school; when you consider that it's part of the prestigious University of California system, and located in one of the three great American cities (the other two being, of course, New York and Chicago), surely it should be unambiguously top 20 or better? In particular, Hastings has been remarkably indifferent to interdisciplinary legal scholarship, having no substantial presence in law and economics, or law and philosophy, or legal history, or empirical legal studies (though some of their distinguished evidence faculty have done important work related to psychology and the rules of evidence). The recent recruitment of the leading feminist legal theorist Joan Williams from American University suggests that, perhaps, this will change, though Hastings does face the obstacle of being a free-standing law school, without a university and its departments on which to draw.
Could Hastings accomplish what NYU did in the 1990s, i.e., exploit its location to recruit a first-rate interdisciplinary faculty? That must surely be one of the challenges facing Dean Newton as she takes the helm. As Dean Newton remarked: "I am excited about the opportunity to lead Hastings as it secures its place as one of the best law schools in the country." Many in the legal academy will watch with interest.