Within the next few weeks, we can expect that President Bollinger will announce the selection of the 15th Dean of Columbia Law School. By all accounts, the search process was one of the most transparent and student-involved in the history of CLS. We have many to thank for that, including Dean Schizer, Dean Greenberg-Kobrin, members of the Dean Search Committee, and Student Senate. But most importantly, the push for student participation came from students themselves. We cared about being a part of the process, and we wanted to make sure that our concerns and desires were voiced not just by a student representative, but directly by us. As our student groups and journals transition to new leadership, it is useful to reflect upon student involvement in the dean search process and to think about ways that next year’s leadership can build on these efforts.
Early in the fall semester, several student groups––including LaLSA, BLSA, APALSA, Outlaws, NALSA, EWOC, MELSA, and CLWA––began discussing how to use the dean search process to impact the future of CLS. In October, we sent a letter to the Dean Search Committee outlining four factors we believed the dean must incorporate into his or her vision for the law school: community building, transparency, faculty and student diversity, and support for all career paths.
In addition to these substantive suggestions, we lobbied hard to have students play an integral role in the selection process of the new dean. In response, members of the Search Committee attended listening sessions with students from a cross-section of student groups, classes, and journals. Importantly, we secured hour-long student interviews with each of the four final candidates. My sense is that the Committee took our concerns and suggestions seriously, and that whoever is selected as the 15th dean will be a community-builder and student advocate.
Over the past several years, students have demonstrated that we can be productive partners and reasonable decision-makers. Last year, students, for the first time in school history, began interviewing entry-level faculty candidates. This year, students participated in an unprecedented way in the selection process for a new dean. Students played a critical role in expanding our human rights faculty and in securing funding of summer judicial internships.
It is now up to next year’s leadership to continue advocating for more student representation in the governance of Columbia Law School. The selection of a new dean presents a great opportunity for the school to develop new programs and new governing norms. We can expect that students will have contrasting views about how to prioritize the many goals of our law school. However, all students should agree that we must continue to share responsibility–along with faculty, staff, and alumni–for the governance of our institution.
Joseph Guzman is a 2L and the former Vice President of LaLSA.