February 20, 2009

Law School dean Saul Levmore announces 2010 retirement

Saul Levmore announced that he will be resigning his position as dean of the University’s Law School in an e-mail sent to students and faculty on Tuesday.

Levmore joined the Law School faculty in 1998 and assumed the position of dean in 2001. In his announcement, Levmore said that eight years is “about the longest a dean should serve” and that he plans to officially leave the deanship in 2010 in order to give the University time to search for a replacement. Levmore also said he will likely return to a full-time faculty position after stepping down.

His tenure as dean has at times come under criticism, especially when several tenured faculty members left the law school­, including Cass Sunstein, who accepted an offer from Harvard earlier this year and now serves as head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration.

But Levmore did not dwell on the specific successes or challenges of his tenure in his announcement, citing the Law School’s academic work over the past decade.

“It is all too common in these announcements to list the buildings renovated, the capital campaigns completed, the faculty hired, and the programs launched. We should be proud of such things, but I prefer to associate myself with the terrific and important work done by faculty colleagues and with the great students who have blossomed here during my time as dean,” Levmore said.

Levmore received praise and criticism for cutting off wireless internet access in the Law School’s classrooms in an attempt to prevent students from distracting themselves during class last year. He also rejected pressures to change the school’s complex letter-grading system, even after peer institutions such as Harvard and Stanford changed theirs to a pass/fail system.

“Saul has provided successful and energetic leadership for the Law School,” University president Robert Zimmer said in a press release. “In the months ahead there will be a number of occasions to recognize Saul’s many achievements as dean and to thank him for his leadership and service.”

To law professor Martha Nussbaum, Levmore’s biggest achievement was fostering the Law School’s unique intellectual community.

“I don’t think any other law school has a community like ours,” Nussbaum said. “[Levmore’s] created a community here that’s both very challenging and like a family. It crosses political lines, but [the faculty] have complete respect for opposing views—very rare in the academic world,” Nussbaum said.

Thanks to the Law School’s relatively small size, Nussbaum said, Levmore was able to encourage departments to interact with each other through weekly lunches and workshops.

Law professor Brian Leiter, whom Levmore hired from the University of Texas last year, hopes the University will keep its intellectual culture in mind while searching for a new dean. “The University isn’t like other places that have subgroups [of professors] who don’t talk to anybody else. [The new dean] will have to understand our institution,” he said.

Leiter also stressed that the new dean should make sure the University stays competitive with its pineer institutions, especially in light of the financial crisis many are facing.

“I think a big issue is the competition for faculty and students,” Leiter said. “Our situation is better off than [others’]. But whoever is coming in will have to have some vision to adjust.”