Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Continuing Legacy of John Sexton for American Legal Education

Rick Pildes

It's widely recognized that John Sexton, as Dean of NYU School of Law from 1988-2002, was as successful as any law school dean in many decades in transforming his institution into a leading center of legal research and education. But I wonder how many have noticed that the current deans of three of the five or so leading law schools in the United States spent all or most of their careers at NYU under John's Deanship. They developed their visions of what a Dean could and should do for an institution by having watched and learned from John -- and I think they'd all freely acknowledge so. I'm thinking of Larry Kramer, Dean of Stanford; Michael Schill, Dean of Chicago; and Ricky Revesz, Dean of NYU. This is all the more noteworthy because the other two schools of the top five, Harvard and Yale, have never hired deans from outside their own faculties in recent decades, as far as I know. And if we add in Larry Sager, Dean of Texas (and Chris Eisgruber, Provost at Princeton), the pattern is even more striking. I wonder if there's been another era in which so many deans of top legal institutions all served under one dean at one institution.

Needless to say, since I am writing this, I don't think this is a coincidence. John is an epic-size personality, whose moments of over-the-topness could make many uncomfortable (John recruited me to NYU and was my Dean for 1 year). But it's an enormous tribute to him, and to the institutional culture he helped create, that so many other top institutions looking for effective leaders turn to figures whose understanding of what that means was shaped by John Sexton. It's an enduring legacy that I thought was worth recognizing.

Older Posts
Newer Posts