Speth to join Vermont Law faculty

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69, dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies — who announced last June he would step down at the end of the academic year — will join the Vermont Law School faculty on July 1, 2010, VLS officials announced Thursday.

Speth, who has served as dean since 1999, sent faculty and students at the environment school an e-mail Tuesday afternoon, announcing his plans and expressing his gratitude for a rewarding decade of work with faculty and students of the school.

“After ten wonderful years at Yale, an opportunity for which I shall be forever grateful, I’m extremely happy to report that I’ll be joining the faculty of the Vermont Law School,” Speth wrote in his e-mail.

A committee has been searching for Speth’s replacement for nearly nine months, and presented a final list of candidates to Levin in December. Speth’s successor will be named in the next few weeks, F&ES Communications Director David DeFusco said, though he did not have specifics on the announcement’s precise timing.

DeFusco — who learned of Speth’s new position at the same time as the rest of the school — and F&ES Deputy Dean Alan Brewster both said they were not surprised by the announcement.

“The Vermont Law School is known for churning out people in the environmental law field; they’re very good,” Brewster said in an interview with the News. “The dean himself is a lawyer, so it’s a logical place for him to go.”

He said Speth and VLS also have a history of working together, thanks to a joint four-year program between VLS and the environment school that allows students to obtain both a master’s degree in environmental management and a JD degree.

In a statement, VLS President and Dean Jeff shields said he is looking forward to welcoming Speth on board.

“Gus has been an extraordinary teacher, scholar and leader on environmental matters for 40 years,” Shields said. “He will be extraordinarily valuable to Vermont Law School as we work to further strengthen both our policy work and our academic program to assure that we remain top-ranked in the nation.”

Prior to assuming the F&ES deanship in 1999, Speth served as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme for six years. Over the course of his career he has also taught law at Georgetown University, held the position of chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality and worked as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.


  • Welcome to Our Town

    As a transplant from Connecticut to Vermont 25 years ago, I have two bits of advice for Dean Speth as he migrates northward: if you don't want to be perceived as a "flatlander" (i.e. "cityslicker") don't talk rapidy or big words in public; and learn the art of taking your turn like everyone else--the art of waiting in lines.

    And throw the suits and ties away---or put them permananetly in the closet, except for weddings---and maybe funerals.

    Oh yeah----and prestige doesn't exist up here. "Yale" is just a lock company--and a pretty good one.

    In other words, Vermont is the last vestige of paradise lost-----a bit of Grovers Corners still sputtering about modernity gone mad.

    Paul Keane
    M.Div. '80
    White River Junction, VT

  • KT

    @Paul Keane
    If you knew Dean Speth at all, you'd know that he's a humble guy and would have no trouble fitting in anywhere. No need to worry about him being a "suit" or a "flatlander." Big loss for Yale, but Dean Speth will continue to do great work for the environment.

  • Anonymous

    A double-Yale grad (Yale College and Yale Law) who also was a Rhodes scholar is going to teach at a fourth tier law school … seriously?

    I think this is more indicitive of Dean Speth's failure to so much as consider any positions among his peers other than those that ascribe to his own highly radical ideology than it is that he wants to teach at a school with a strong environmental law program. There are many other law schools far more appropriate for someone with his credentials which have widely-recognized environmental law programs (e.g., Georgetown, Duke and Stanford); that he is not leaving to teach at one of these is striking indeed.

    In short, this news makes the already evident parallels between Dean Speth and Karl Marx -- who was forced into oblivion due to his failure to accept non-radical views -- all the more astounding.

  • Northeast Kingdom

    Hey KT--
    Have a sense of humor. I don't even know the guy. I was talking about VERMONT--in adoring terms ---not about Speth. ALL FLATLANDERS (including the most humble of humble at Yale) have to be initiated into the Green Mountain routine. Vermont was (and still is in some ways) a different country. Have you ever heard of the Northeast Kingdom?

    People still have earth floors in their kitchens up here and nobody blinks an eyelash. From the other comment on this blog it sounds like Speth has already raised a few stuffy flatlander eyebrows at Old Blue.

    MDIV '80

  • @Yale 08

    In what world was Karl Marx forced into oblivion? Whatever you think about his ideas, it's hard to deny that he's one of the most important and influential figures of his time. If Gus Speth proves to be as important to world history as Marx, I'd say that would qualify as a pretty big achievement.

    More importantly, the loss of Speth marks a sad day for Yale - he's one of the best at what he does.

  • Dounia

    As a native Vermonter from the Northeast Kingdom and Yale undergrad, I'd like to add a bit about those of us from the Green Mountains. We may be a little more "in touch" with nature--and do I ever miss it while I'm here in New Haven--but we're hardly backward or ignorant/immune to prestige or even "sputtering about modernity gone mad." We do things our way, sure, but don't write us off as quaint "Grovers Corners" because we have dirt floors (really?) and dirt roads. The romanticizing look at Vermont, as a paradise or a crunchy hippie hang-out, I find to be equally bad, as it avoid acknowledging the harsh reality of poor, rural life (especially in the NEK). I'm full of pride and love for my state, but don't let the postcards of autumn glory be all that you think of.

    Vermont Law, by the way, is a reputable institution. The education you get out of a place, of course, depends on you, not the seal on your diploma. I'm sure there are "fourth tier" students coming out of Yale, in spite of all the resources here.

  • YLS grad

    To the double-poster above at #3 and #4 who purports to be shocked, shocked that a person with such prestigious credentials is heading to Vermont (and who uses this as an excuse to bash Dean Speth), a simple rejoinder: not everybody is as ranking-obsessed as you are.

    Really! Not everyone is obsessed with being at the highest-ranked, most prestigious school or institution every time. Vermont's environmental law program is second to none, and also unusual in its focus. Dean Speth could have gone a lot of places if he wanted, but it appears that this one was the best fit. The fact that you can't even imagine that's possible -- that you assume that he must have chosen his next job wholly on the basis of U.S. News rankings -- is a really depressing commentary on you and your generation.

  • South Royalton raid of 1780

    Who's romanticizing Grovers Corners? The whole play is full of senseless death---from WWI paper boy Joe Crowell to the drunk choir director Simon Suicide Stimson, to chilbirth fatality Emily Gibbs.
    And who is romanticizing Paradise Lost Vermont? Paradise (AKA Garden of Eden AKA Baghdad) is as boring as they come.

    The thing about Vermont is its redolence of a Paradise Lost that never was a paradise to begin (it was innocence, simplicity) with but gets recollected as such in its absence.
    South Royalton---home of Vermont Law School and site of the Indian raids of the late 1700's, still had human being as a town street sweeper (broom and shovel) in 1986 when I moved there. His name was "Howard" and he was in his 70's. He was paid a townstipend and tips in beer and food.

    So don't project on to me dear north east Kingdom refugee your own hang-ups and myopia about your native state. I see if for exactly what it is: poverty and ignorance yes--but the first state to outlaw slavery in its constitution; the first state to have a Jewis, woman governor; the first state to legalize same gender romantic unions; the first state to send a socialist to congress and then the senate; and the first state to have a former nudist as a senator. Vermont doesn't give a hoot for public prejudices and biases or public opinion of any kind. It does what makes sense and seems right.

  • Anonymous

    Too radical? I always found that Speth was never really radical enough, Yale08/double poster.

    The best of luck to him, though.

  • Thornton

    "Vermont doesn't give a hoot for public prejudices and biases or public opinion of any kind. It does what makes sense and seems right."

    Here's a romantic notion that needs some correction. As a resident of the Kingdom for almost 40 years, I can assure Paul and others that most Vermonters care mightily about public opinion. What's more, a great many Vermonters, whether they're yakking toothless over donuts and beer in their dirt-floor kitchens or chatting in the waiting room at the BMW dealership, harbor strong prejudices and biases, just like people in Connecticut and Ohio.

    Poster Paul has been around long enough to remember the angry "Take Back Vermont" movement (still alive and kicking up here in the Kingdom if not way down around White River), which grew up in reaction to civil unions and to the state's imposition of laws governing clearcut logging. Prejudices against homosexuals, black people, Jews, atheists, nudists, Mexicans, hippies, and so forth run deep in the Kingdom and have for decades. The attitude of those hateful citizens responsible for the Irasburg Affair is still in place in that Kingdom village and in others, too, more than 40 years later. Vermonters, however, are independent-minded by and large, and most of us find we can look beyond our prejudices when we are dealing with individual people.

    And that's what makes Vermont Vermont. The state is small enough (and community-minded enough) to allow us, if we care, to get to know the person. Which is why most of us who bother to vote can elect a Jewish governor and a socialist, nonreligious senator.

    I would add, too, that the vision of Vermont as some Paradise Lost is not as frivolous or mistaken or dreamily wistful as it may sound to some. Nor is that erstwhile paradise entirely lost. Innocence and simplicity are paradisial qualities, even in Grovers Corners. If those qualities were prevalent here in earlier days, they still are today in some towns at some times. No earthly paradise is without struggle and tribulation. The hard life was, and is, a sweet life, too.

  • Impeach Earl Who?

    So the Take Back Vermont movement produced bumper stickers and signs--i.e. free speech. It did not produce burning crosses and men in hooded white sheets.

    Sure, Vermonter's spout off. They spouted off about slavery too. When I came to Vermont in 1986 the billboard law had a few grandfathered exceptions: One was a billboard in South Royalton on the way to Chelsea which stood in a local's front yard declaring "Impeach Earl Warren". Another was a huge business rooftop in White River which proclaims "25,000 Gifts".

    Free speech again.

    Vermont's a funny creature: Mind your own business but proclaim opinions loud and clear.

    There are two topics of conversation up here: Freedom of speech and Four Wheel Drive. Maybe the weatha.

    Gotta love it.