Constitutional law scholar Robert Post LAW ’77 became the 16th dean of Yale Law School on July 1. He succeeds Harold Hongju Koh, who became the legal adviser of the Department of State in June after a long confirmation battle in the U.S. Senate. Post, who joined the Law School faculty in 2003, reflected on his first two months as dean in a conversation with the News on Tuesday.
Q: With two months under your belt, what is a typical day in the life of a Yale Law School dean?
A: There is no typical day. Each day brings its own adventures. This job has so many disparate constituencies. One has to deal with staff who are union members, staff who are not; one has to face alumni, students, faculty, University administrators, Yale faculty, as well as faculty from other schools. One has to be different things to different people. One has to act one way to recruit faculty and another way to interact with students. All these different activities are jumbled up throughout the day, and they can hit you in any order. An average day is basically one where one has to be flexible, adaptable and adroit.
Q: What is the largest adjustment, professionally or personally, that you have had to make since your appointment as dean?
A: My background is in scholarship; I was a working scholar. Much of my time was taken up by scholarship and writing. As dean, it’s harder to do those things. The daily life of a dean is packed from morning to night with obligations and meetings. For me, writing is requires a quiet stretch of time to think. Most pieces I write try to make arguments about an area of the law, and I need space to clear my head and think hard about what I’d like to say. So far, it’s been hard to find that kind of time. Ihave several pieces that I’m presently finishing. But to start a new piece, well, it will be interesting to see how that goes.
Q: What has been surprising about the deanship?
A: What so far has surprised me most about the job is how the role of being dean has taken over my life. As a professor, I was a teacher and a faculty member in specific contexts, like faculty meetings. Most of the time I lived my life as myself. But as a dean I’m in role with almost everyone almost all of the time. It’s hard to know when and how to step out of role. It’s surprise when I find a friend in a conversation treating me as “the dean.”
Q: The recession has greatly affected the Law School’s endowment. What steps have been taken with the budget?
A: [Former] Acting Dean Kate Stith did a good job preparing the School for fiscal year 2010. The first time I will seriously consider this issue is in planning the budget for fiscal year 2011. We will have to cut discretionary expenditures, and there are always some such areas that can be pruned. But it is essential to the school that we maintain our scholarship and our pedagogical excellence, as well as our deserved reputation as one of the best law schools in the country.
Q: Yale Law School has always had a reputation as one of the top law schools in the country, and the dean is the public face of the school. What do you say when you meet with alumni and other supporters?
A: When I talk to alumni, I try to talk about the real needs and the real strengths of the school, as I understand them. I have so far found this part of the job to be pretty easy. I can report from firsthand experience that alumni love the school and recognize the financial challenge we are facing.
Q: Ten or 20 years from now, what do you hope your legacy as dean to be?
A: In the abstract, I’d like to look back and say that the scholarship and educational environment of the Law School have been improved. I would like to be remembered as someone who has made the Law School a better place. But if you are asking me about what specific projects I am going to undertake, I will need more than two months to identify them. It will take time to locate and recruit the best scholars and to discover exactly how to improve our educational environment.
Correction, Friday, Sept. 4: The Q&A with Yale Law School Dean Robert Post LAW ’77, “Post LAW ’77 takes the reins,” was derived from an interview granted on the condition that the dean approve his quotations before they were published. The News failed to provide Post with the opportunity to review his quotations. As such, several quotations in the Q&A have been corrected. The News sincerely regrets this error.