Friday, May 7, 2010

Elena Kagan: Friend of the White Man

That's the latest criticism to arise regarding her tenure as Dean at HLS:  that she overwhelmingly appointed white men to the HLS faculty.  The White House response is amazingly lame:  they produce statistics about offers to visiting professors, which included more women and minorities.  On the other hand, it is true there were at least two women and one African-American (of whom I'm aware) who were offered tenured positions and declined them during her tenure.  Of course, all those white guys to whom Professors Charles et al. call attention were connected to another 'diversity' effort, one popular with the "nobody loves us" academic right:

She successfully hired numerous top scholars in many subfields, and from across the political spectrum. Under her tenure, Harvard arguably managed to surpass Yale and Chicago as the law school with the most productive faculty (I say this despite the fact that I’m a Yale Law grad, and a longtime admirer of Chicago). At the very least, she did a great deal to regain the ground that Harvard lost to its rivals in the 1980s and 90s. 

She did this in part by pushing for the hiring of top conservative scholars like Jack Goldsmith and John Manning. In a hiring market characterized by a degree of hostility to non-leftwingers, productive right of center scholars were an undervalued asset similar to the undervalued high-OPS hitters that Beane relied on in his early years with the A’s.

While I'm not sure about the productivity bit (no source is cited, not even me!), I concur with Professor Somin's bottom line that Dean Kagan brought 'back to life' a faculty in need of renewal.  Though we should note, of course, that it wasn't like either Goldsmith or Manning were obvious victims of 'hostility':  Goldsmith had held tenured posts at Chicago and Virginia, Manning at Columbia, and they both had more than their share of opportunities.  Indeed, with top law schools like Northwestern actually practicing affirmative action for legal scholars on the right, and with multiple legal scholars on "the right" at every leading law school in the U.S., it may be time for conservative legal academics to abandon the persecution complex.  If anyone has cause for complaint these days, it's those on the actual left (you know, the one to the left of liberalism)...but I'm not complaining, being a happy diversity hire, both intellectual (I was only the second philosopher on the Chicago law faculty--where was the outcry, I ask, where?) and political.  

Perhaps most importantly, it should count in favor of her tenure that Dean Kagan tried (albeit unsuccesfully) to do something about Harvard Law School's embarrassing weakness in law & philosophy!  I am sure she has the philosophically-minded vote in the Senate locked up.

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