University President Richard Levin announced Monday the appointment of Robert Post LAW ’77 as the 16th dean of Yale Law School.
Post, a scholar of constitutional law, including the First Amendment, equal protection and legal history, will take office July 1. He succeeds Harold Hongju Koh, whose nomination for the position of legal adviser to the Department of State is under consideration by the Senate.
“Dean Post is a very fine scholar and leader in constitutional law, and in an area that is attracting a lot of attention right now,” Levin said in an interview Monday. “His colleagues respect him as a wise and thoughtful member of the faculty who has a really very serious commitment to maintaining the academic excellence of the Law School.”
Post, 61, joined the Law School faculty in 2003 after teaching for 20 years at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.
Alongside Law School professors Jack Balkin and Reva Siegel ’78 GRD ’82 LAW ’86, Post has recently led a legal movement known as “democratic constitutionalism,” which holds that courts should push for liberal social justice goals similar to those of the 1960s-era Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, but using moderate means rather than bold judicial activism.
In an interview Monday, Post described his appointment as “overwhelming” and “humbling.”
“It’s a sense of adventure and excitement all rolled into one,” he said. “I had always avoided taking on a job like this, but when it comes to this institution that I love so much which has the values that I prize, I thought, that’s an offer I cannot refuse.”
The announcement Monday came as Koh’s own professional future remains undecided, as Senate Republicans continued to block a vote on his confirmation. But Democrats made clear their patience is waning, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would force a vote on Koh’s nomination Wednesday morning if an agreement is not reached before then.
Still, University officials expressed confidence on Monday that Koh’s confirmation is a virtual certainty and said there were no qualms about appointing his successor before he is confirmed. Koh, for his part, said in a statement that Post would be a “superb dean.”
“Robert Post is a gifted teacher, a hugely insightful scholar of First Amendment law and a leading thinker about constitutionalism at home and abroad in the 21st century,” he said. “He loves Yale Law School and is deeply committed to its unique values.”
Post received his bachelor’s degree at Harvard before attending the Law School. From 1977 to 1978, he was a law clerk to Chief Judge David L. Bazelon of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and the next year he served as a clerk to Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. In 1980, Post received a doctorate in the history of American civilization from Harvard.
After President Barack Obama announced Koh’s nomination in March, Post was immediately floated as a possible successor, and his appointment on Monday did not come as a surprise. In interviews, law professors spoke highly of Post’s scholarly work, administrative experience and professional judgment.
Law professor Kate Stith, who has served as acting dean since March, first met Post in 1973 when they lived in the same apartment building while she attended Harvard Law School and he was a doctoral student, and they later served as law clerks together for two years, first for judges on the District of Columbia Circuit and the next year at the Supreme Court. In an interview Monday, she praised Post’s selection and called him “a wonderful colleague.”
“He was — even then — both brilliant and wise,” she said.
Law professor Susan Rose-Ackerman GRD ’70, who served on the search committee that recommended Post for the job, said his academic values and scholarly work had won him backing from a broad swath of the school’s community.
“He’s a strong scholar, but he’s also been a strong advocate for freedom of expression,” she said. “He was also somebody that … a wide range of people in the Law School were very happy and enthusiastic to support.”
The all-faculty search committee sought input from students and alumni as well as from other faculty members, Rose-Ackerman said. While students wanted a dean who would support student life within the school, she said, an urgent concern among Law School community members was to select a steady administrator who could guide the school through the ongoing financial crisis and budget cuts.
Before coming to Yale, Post served as the chair of Berkeley’s budget committee and was chairman of the University of California Humanities Research Institute’s board of governors.
“Anyone coming to such a position today, in this economy, with its challenges, faces an unusual array of challenges,” said Anthony Kronman GRD ’72 LAW ’75, a law professor who served as dean of the Law School from 1994 to 2004. “Robert is completely up to it.”
Asked how he planned to negotiate the financial strains on the school, Post said he had no specific blueprint in mind but said his ultimate goal would be to protect the Law School’s mission.
“The essential question is to preserve our scholarly excellence, our pedagogy, our student body, to make people feel that they’re part of a supportive community, and to make all of that continue to happen,” he said. “It’s a very precious place.”
Post’s appointment came 11 days after Harvard Law School appointed one of its veteran professors, Martha Minow LAW ’79, to serve as dean. As with Post, Minow replaces an Obama appointee, Elena Kagan, who was named solicitor general. When she takes office July 1, Minow will become the second woman to hold the deanship at Harvard Law School.
At Yale, meanwhile, every dean in the Law School’s 166-year history has been male, and all had been white until Koh, an Asian-American, was appointed. That lack of diversity drew speculation that Levin might favor a female or minority candidate, just as some professors said they thought he would favor a woman to succeed Peter Salovey last fall as dean of Yale College, a position that had not previously been held by a woman. In that case, Levin did choose a woman, Mary Miller.
Rose-Ackerman said the members of the search committee felt it was important to see a permanent dean named by June 30, when Koh’s term expires, a requirement that constrained their options.
“Given that we needed to move pretty quickly, Bob just came out of the process as the strongest person there,” she said said. “There were women and minorities who were being considered seriously, but Bob came out as much more of a consensus candidate.”
Post will also be the latest in a long succession of deans who were chosen from within the Law School community. The last external candidate to be tapped was Thomas Swan in 1916, and Levin noted that Law School faculty members are notoriously skeptical of “outsider” candidates.
Stith, for her part, said publicly when she accepted the acting deanship that she did not want to be considered to serve as dean on a permanent basis. “I’ve enjoyed it, and I think the Law School is in great shape, and I’m pleased to be turning things over,” she said Monday.
Post would not say whether he might be interested in serving as dean for more than one term, which lasts for five years, and Levin declined to speculate on how long the new dean might remain in office. Law School deans have traditionally served no more than two terms.
Post, who teaches courses on constitutional law, the First Amendment and other subjects, acknowledged he would have to cut back on his scholarship but said he plans to continue teaching next year. The chance to teach Yale law students, he noted, was the reason he left Berkeley and came to New Haven in the first place.
“Yale is a very special place because it nurtures the next generation of legal academics,” he said. “If you want your work to live through the work of others in the scholarly community, Yale is an astonishing place to teach. Yale law students are nonpareil. There’s nothing like them anywhere in the country.”