Robert Post LAW ’77 will succeed Harold Hongju Koh as dean of Yale Law School, University President Richard Levin announced over the summer.
Post, a scholar of constitutional law, including the First Amendment, equal protection and legal history, took office July 1. The U.S. Senate confirmed his predecessor, Koh, as legal adviser to the Department of State on June 25.
“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 a June interview. “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 recently led a legal movement known as “democratic constitutionalism,” which holds that courts should push for liberal social justice goals using moderate means rather than bold judicial activism.
In an interview soon after his appointment was announced, Post described his selection 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.”
Post received his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University 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 did not come as a surprise, half a dozen faculty members interviewed said. In interviews, law professors spoke highly of Post’s scholarly work, administrative experience and professional judgment.
Law professor Kate Stith, who served as acting dean from March to June, 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. 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 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 will 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 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.”