With the future of outgoing Yale Law School Dean Harold Hongju Koh’s career now in the hands of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the University is set to begin the long process of finding the school’s 16th dean.

University President Richard Levin said Tuesday he will form a committee in the “next week or so” to begin the process of replacing Koh, who was nominated by President Barack Obama on Monday to be the top legal adviser to the State Department. That committee, whose composition is not yet fixed, will submit its recommendations for Koh’s successor to Levin, possibly in time for a new dean to be in place for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Levin, who will have final say over the pick, said he is open to considering candidates for the post from outside the Yale Law School faculty.

“The tradition has been to go internal,” Levin said. “I think it’s important to have someone who understands Yale Law School — its special qualities and its culture. It could potentially be someone who’s been a student at Yale Law School or taught there before.”

Nine of the Law School’s 15 deans have been graduates of the school. Although Koh graduated from Harvard Law School, he joined the law faculty at Yale 19 years before assuming the deanship in 2004.

But all this is pending Koh’s confirmation. A date for his confirmation hearing has not yet been posted to the public calendar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which currently extends through March. If confirmed, Koh would return to Washington, D.C. — he served from 1998 to 2001 as assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor — as legal adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.

If Koh is not confirmed, Levin said, he would serve out his term as dean, set to end in June. On Monday, Levin appointed Law School professor Kate Stith acting dean, effective immediately, saying it would “permit Dean Koh to focus on preparation for his important new responsibility.”

Levin said he will hold meetings over the next week to discuss the composition of the search committee — which has, in past searches, been composed of only Law School faculty.

The last time the Law School looked for a new dean — following professor Anthony Kronman’s decision in 2003 to leave the post — Levin’s eight-member faculty committee took seven months to deliberate before settling on Koh, whose selection was nearly a foregone conclusion at the time.

“It would be wrong to say that Harold beat out a field of competitors,” Kronman told the News in a retrospective interview in April 2007. “Harold was the field.”

Which Law School faculty will serve on the committee this time around, Levin said, remains uncertain — as does the identity of Koh’s successor.

One day after Koh’s announcement, students and professors were already speculating on who could fill Koh’s post — and on whether that person will come from the Law School.

“They need someone who understands the culture of the school, who understands the collaborative atmosphere cultivated here,” said Zach Jones ’05 LAW ’11. “Ideally, it would be someone from within the Law School community.”

Koh was the first Asian-American dean in the school’s 166-year history.

Paul Needham contributed reporting.