After over three years, Koh to return

After serving as the State Department’s legal adviser since 2009, Harold Koh will return to his teaching position at Yale Law School next semester.
After serving as the State Department’s legal adviser since 2009, Harold Koh will return to his teaching position at Yale Law School next semester. Photo by US Mission Geneva/Creative Commons.

After serving as the State Department’s legal adviser since 2009, Harold Koh will return to his teaching position at Yale Law School next semester.

University President Richard Levin said Koh, who served as Law School dean from 2004 until he joined the Obama administration, will come to New Haven immediately after the presidential inauguration in January 2013. Students and professors interviewed said they are pleased about Koh’s return to the Law School, citing his experience in public office as an asset to his teaching.

“I look forward to seeing my friends and making new ones,” Koh said in a Monday email to the News. “Yale Law School and New Haven are my home, and it is always great to come home.”

Though Koh did not provide a reason for his decision to rejoin the Law School faculty, Levin said he thinks Koh’s departure from the State Department is part of President Barack Obama’s restructuring of his administration during his second term. Jeh Johnson, general counsel for the Department of Defense during Obama’s first term, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both announced that they will step down from their positions at the end of the year.

While serving as the State Department’s legal adviser, Koh supported Obama’s drone program against militants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a March 2010 speech, Koh said targeted killing by aerial drone strikes “compl[ies] with all applicable law, including the laws of war.” That same year, Koh wrote a letter — which was released to the public — on behalf of the State Department to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his lawyer, urging Assange to cease violating U.S. law by publishing illegally obtained U.S. government classified documents.

Law professor and former Law School Dean Guido Calabresi ’53 LAW ’58 said he thinks Koh’s return to the school is “a wonderful event.”

“The experience [Koh] has had in public life will add yet another dimension to his teaching and scholarship,” Calabresi said. “[His return] will be great for every one of us — for students, faculty and anyone connected to the University.”

The Law School spring course listing includes two classes taught by Koh — a lecture entitled “Foreign Relations and National Security Law” and a seminar entitled “International Human Rights Law and Policy.”

Tina Thomas LAW ’14, who worked with Koh in the State Department for two years before she enrolled at the Law School, said she is “absolutely thrilled” Koh is returning.

“[Koh] not only wishes for [his students’] professional and academic success, but he wants us all to be upstanding citizens, people of good character,” she said. “His teaching will surely reflect how what we learn in the ivory tower has real-world implications.”

Christine Tsang ’07 LAW ’13 said Koh’s experience in government will be beneficial to his teaching, as he will be able to discuss both theory and practice on major issues in public international law, like questions concerning cyber security and targeted killings.

James Shih LAW ’13 said he thinks Koh’s lecture will be “enormously oversubscribed, in spite of the ungodly 8:20 start time,” and added that he is especially excited about Koh’s return because of his significance to the Asian-American legal community.

“[Koh] is an incredibly potent symbol for Asian-Americans pursuing law,” he said. “His enormous success in legal academia and as a public servant is an inspiration to all of us, and I look forward to the chance to get to know him as a personal role model.”

Koh graduated from Harvard Law School with a J.D. in 1980.

Isaac Stanley-Becker contributed reporting.

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