Columbia University School of Law has extended an offer to Harvard Law School
professor Lani Guinier to teach there as a visiting professor, and hopes to
persuade her to stay, according to sources familiar with the offer.
The proposed hire dovetails with a plan at Columbia to establish a
civil-rights law center, possibly in collaboration with the NAACP Legal
Defense Fund, among other nonprofits.
“We would love to collaborate with nonprofit organizations to give them advice
about specific issues related to them—mostly issues related to racial
justice,” law school dean David Schizer told The Observer. “The idea
is, if you can get really first-rate faculty to talk—to spend time—with
leading civil-rights advocates, they will come up with very interesting
You may know Ms. Guinier as the “Quota Queen,” whose nomination by
then-President Bill Clinton to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights
was abruptly withdrawn in 1993 amid conservative caricatures of her writings
advocating a variation on proportional representation. Her recent work, which
has been greatly influential in the liberal jurisprudential jet set, examines
a range of civil-rights concerns, including the role of race and gender in the
“I think, in Lani Guinier’s case, there’s some interest in helping to put
together a civil-rights center at Columbia,” said Professor Thomas Merrill,
who heads the appointments committee.
She hasn’t yet accepted the offer, and even if she does, it wouldn’t
necessarily mean she’d be leaving Harvard permanently.
Nor is she the only Harvard Law professor sought by Columbia: Another visiting
professorship has been offered to leading criminal-law scholar (and outspoken
evangelical Christian) William Stuntz.
Visiting offers generally fall into three categories: “podium” visits, where a
school really needs a single course in a professor’s specialty; “enrichment”
visits, when the school knows the faculty member is going to stay where he or
she is, but wants to punch up its program for a semester or a year; and
“look-see” visits, when prospective mates are checking each other out to see
if they want to commit.
“These, from our perspective, we hope that they’re ‘look-see’ visits,” said
Michael Dorf, a law professor at Columbia.
Indeed, particularly in Ms. Guinier’s case—because of the opportunities the
civil-rights center might present—Columbia’s offer smells of a play. Ms.
Guinier declined to comment.
Ms. Guinier does have professional ties to Columbia. Susan Sturm, Ms.
Guinier’s collaborator on several articles as well as a book, is a professor
at the law school.
“There is a large cohort of people she might be interested in hanging out
with,” Mr. Merrill said.
Before moving to Cambridge, Ms. Guinier taught at the University of
Pennsylvania. Harvard had a substantial courtship period with her, a period
marked by tumult at the school.
She was first invited to visit at Harvard Law School in 1992. The most senior
black member of the Harvard Law School faculty, Derrick Bell Jr., had recently
resigned in protest over the absence of a minority-woman faculty member.
Students had brought a lawsuit—later dismissed—against the university,
alleging that faculty hiring was discriminatory. Ms. Guinier “wasn’t ready,”
she told an interviewer for the law-school alumni bulletin in 1999. “The
School was embroiled in controversy about faculty hiring,” she said. “I was
loath to walk into the middle of it.”
But after experiencing the fallout of her nomination to the Justice
Department, nothing seemed intimidating.
“After that grueling experience, I was less worried about how I would fare if
I were at the center of a public controversy,” she recalled. She visited for
the law school’s short winter term in 1996, and was shortly thereafter made a
permanent offer. Ms. Guinier finally joined the faculty—as their first tenured
black woman—in the summer of 1998.
Mr. Schizer said he was aiming to raise between $5 million and $10 million for
the civil-rights law center, which he hopes will be up and running by the
fall. He declined to identify the nonprofit groups with whom the school will
partner, but other professors said that the school was in talks with the NAACP
Legal Defense Fund. Fund president Theodore Shaw was traveling and couldn’t be
reached for comment.
“I think this is sort of new territory. We’re not looking so much to be a
litigation arm; we’re not looking to write briefs for them. We’re looking to
write the objective, scholarly briefs that we’ve always done,” said Mr.
Schizer. “We might give input about strategic thinking.”
According to several legal scholars interviewed by The Observer, that
appears to be the future of civil-rights law. Federal courts have gotten more
conservative over the past 30 years—which means lawyers are focusing more of
their attention on state constitutions and non-litigation advocacy efforts.
But the civil-rights law center is not the first initiative that the
37-year-old Mr. Schizer has undertaken since he assumed the deanship of
Columbia Law School a year and a half ago.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, hedge-fund manager Alphonse
Fletcher Jr. recently pledged $3.2 million over five years toward a
professorship “to study issues related to race and social justice, including
education, criminal justice and affirmative action.” It will be held by Jack
Greenberg, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Moving the law school into such a highly visible—and hotly contested—area of
practice is one way to heighten the school’s profile in the coming years.
In that department, Mr. Schizer has his work cut out for him. In the most
recent U.S. News and World Report, Columbia’s law school is ranked
fourth in the country, just above New York University School of Law; Harvard
is ranked second, below Yale Law School and above third-place Stanford
Watching the jockeying for position in that high echelon is a spectator sport
for lawyers—and for New York, the stakes are high.
Brian Leiter, head of the law and philosophy program at the University of
Texas at Austin, is an inveterate oddsmaker.
“Yale and Harvard dominate everyone else in the legal academy,” he wrote in an
e-mail to The Observer. “Fifty years ago that wasn’t true,
Yale/Harvard/Columbia were the dominant triumvirate of legal education.
Stanford’s rise to prominence came at the expense of Columbia (Stanford raided
the Columbia faculty in the early 1960s), and since then Columbia has not
generally been as competitive with Yale and Harvard.”
Indeed, what the rankings don’t reflect is the gulf in prestige between
second-place Harvard and the two New York schools that take up the fourth and
The central battleground between the schools is in the hiring of law
professors. And lately, Harvard—not content to be beaten year after year by
the Elis—has become a particularly aggressive jockey.
In 2004, Harvard poached one of the most hotly sought-after legal
conservatives, John Manning, then a professor at Columbia.
But Columbia won the next round: Elizabeth Emens, a promising contracts and
family-law scholar, received offers from both Columbia and Harvard, and she
“We managed to beat Harvard on that one,” said Mr. Merrill.
In the meantime, Harvard, which is on a hiring tear, has made offers to legal
and political philosopher Jeremy Waldron and legal historian and torts scholar
John Witt. And, according to Mr. Schizer, Columbia is going to be voting on
additional visiting offers to other Harvard and Yale Law School faculty later
Mr. Stuntz, who is less well known outside the rarefied world of legal
scholarship but is a powerful force within it, has personal reasons for
wanting to come to New York, he said in an e-mail. Mr. Stuntz often writes
about Christian values and the legal system. He co-wrote a criminal-law
casebook with Columbia Law professor Debra Livingston (and two other
He wrote that he will be spending six weeks at Columbia during his sabbatical
in the fall.
“Columbia’s faculty hasn’t offered me a permanent position yet, and I haven’t
committed to accepting such an offer if it were made. But my understanding is
that they’re interested, and I’m interested. I don’t know how to assess the
odds, but I’m genuinely uncertain where I’ll be spending the balance of my
career. I’m taking this very seriously.”
He added: “Harvard is also a great place, from my perspective: I have
wonderful colleagues and students, and I have enormous admiration for my
current Dean, Elena Kagan. I’m not thinking about Columbia because of any
dissatisfaction with Harvard.”
Mr. Stuntz joined that faculty in 2000; there, he has a position in the dean’s
cabinet as vice dean for intellectual life.
So the offer might be seen as an attack on Harvard’s innermost circle—which,
if it succeeds, will be good for business at Columbia. And it’s only the
“Columbia is that hot school right now,” Mr. Schizer said. “We are very
competitive with Harvard and Yale, and we expect to hire a few people away
from each of those schools.”