Message From the Dean: A Year of Resilience and Reactivation

As the academic year comes to a close, Dean Lester reflects on the milestones and accomplishments of the past year and looks ahead to the future.

Dear members of the Columbia Law School community, 

In May, as we celebrated our 2022 Law School graduates—as well as alumni from the Classes of 2020 and 2021—I was overcome with joy and exhilaration at being able to once again convene on campus to mark this most important of milestones in academic life. Now, as we close out the academic year with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the year and to turn our thoughts to the future. 

Energizing Intellectual Life

This year, we had the privilege of welcoming six extraordinary new full-time faculty members with wide-ranging expertise: Kate Andrias, Amber Baylor, Madhav Khosla, Lev Menand, Christopher Morten, and Kerrel Murray. I am thrilled to announce that an additional six professors will join us in July, with a seventh set to start in January:  

Ashraf “Ash” Ahmed, an entry-level political theorist and intellectual historian whose scholarship explores the unstated norms and ethical principles that animate public law arguments in areas such as election law, constitutional law, and administrative law

Mala Chatterjee, an entry-level legal philosopher whose work explores the philosophical foundations of the laws governing intellectual property, technology, privacy, and speech, and the theories underlying private law doctrine, particularly in torts and property

Josh Gupta-Kagan, currently a professor of law at the University of South Carolina specializing in family law and juvenile justice, who will launch a Family Defense Clinic to represent parents and other caregivers facing allegations of abuse and neglect

Monica Hakimi, currently a professor of law at the University of Michigan with practice experience in the U.S. Department of State, who deploys both doctrinal analysis and legal theory to study the structure and functions of international law and teaches international law, human rights law, global governance, and foreign affairs law

Michael Love (joining January 1, 2023), an entry-level tax scholar trained in empirical economics and public finance and with experience in both government and private practice, who studies the role of partnerships in business structures, the effects of taxation on corporate finance, and problems of tax avoidance through the use of business entities

Camille Pannu, an entry-level clinical professor who will launch a Just Transition Clinic focused on addressing the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities of color

Thomas P. Schmidt, an entry-level scholar of constitutional law and federal courts with extensive practice experience litigating cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts

In addition, I want to recognize Joshua Mitts, who will be promoted to Professor of Law on July 1, and Kerrel Murray, who will take a public service leave next year to clerk for incoming U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

We also mark several transitions among our faculty ranks. Professors Michael Graetz, Kent Greenawalt, Ed Lloyd, Elizabeth Scott, and Jane Spinak retired from teaching, and, though bittersweet, Professor Jed Purdy has decided to return with his family to North Carolina over the summer. Finally, we grieve the passing of Professors Emeritus Joseph Raz and Richard B. Stone, who died after illustrious careers that, to our good fortune, included many years of teaching and intellectual citizenship on the Columbia Law faculty.

Centering Equity and Inclusion

Our community-wide anti-racism work continued with the help of a newly formed Anti-Racism Coordinating Committee (ARCC), which included students, administrators, and the chairs of several faculty committees responsible for advancing components of the agenda set forth by the Anti-Racism Steering Committee in 2020-2021. The ARCC was instrumental in supporting the Columbia Clerkships Diversity Initiative and developing a framework for helping students of color overcome barriers to public interest careers. In addition, projects awarded funding as part of the first round of Anti-Racism Grants flourished this year, and a new cohort of Racial and Social Justice Fellows was announced

The Naming and Symbols Working Group—which includes faculty, students, and several alumni representatives—was first convened last summer to begin examining representations of the Law School’s history and values. In addition to beginning drafting a guiding framework, the Working Group helped to launch a first-of-its-kind Artist-in-Residence Program. This important work will continue into next year, with a particular focus on figures in the Law School’s history with connections to slavery. 

Launching New Academic and Community Initiatives

The Constitutional Democracy Initiative, which was created to address the challenges facing democracy laid bare by the insurrection of January 6, 2021, mobilized a series of events and programs throughout the year—including the “Beyond the Casebook” 1L faculty-student lunch program and the Democracy’s Futures seminar series. 

We also launched a flagship annual lecture series, the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar Law Lectures, which aims to further our understanding of justice, democracy, equality, development, and governance from historical, comparative, and philosophical perspectives. The inaugural lectures, entitled “Historical Injustice, Agency, and Resentment,” were delivered by eminent scholar Pratap Bhanu Mehta in April. 

And, just last week, we announced the creation of the International Claims and Reparations Project, which will develop international law frameworks for the management of international claims and reparations and advise the government of Ukraine.  

Sustaining Excellence in Teaching and Learning

This year marked the creation of a new standing Committee on Teaching. The Committee is tasked with enhancing inclusive and effective pedagogy. In this inaugural year, it developed a protocol for the instructional onboarding of new faculty members, convened workshops and programs for instructors on effective facilitation of classroom discussions on difficult topics, and held several listening sessions with faculty and students to learn more about their classroom experiences with an eye to sustaining and further improving Columbia’s excellence in pedagogy. 

In addition, a special Grading Task Force comprising faculty, students, and administrators was charged this year with reexamining our grading system. The Task Force consulted broadly—including convening focus groups throughout the year with students, administrators, alumni, and employers—and recommended several changes that will take effect beginning with the J.D. Class of 2025. More information about these changes, which were adopted by the faculty in May, will be forthcoming. 

Supporting Students

At the start of the spring semester, the Law School took full occupancy of William and June Warren Hall, previously shared with the Business School. This added four new floors, providing eight new classrooms, 12 group study rooms, more than 100 study seats, a multi-purpose events space, a coffee bar, and dedicated space for the Student Services team. This transformational increase in the Law School’s footprint greatly expanded our spaces for teaching and learning, and helped to relieve pressure on heavily used study space in Jerome Greene Hall and elsewhere in Big Warren. 

We also continued to deepen our investment in students pursuing careers in public interest and government. A generous gift from alumnus Max Berger ’71 and his wife Dale permanently endowed the Public Interest/Public Service Scholars Program, and another contribution, this one from alumni Brad Smith ’84 and Kathy Surace-Smith ’84, provides sustainable funding for the Human Rights Clinic (now named in the Smiths’ honor). In addition, we implemented three significant enhancements to our Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP), which was already among the most generous in the nation, including increasing the income threshold, introducing an allowance for spousal debt, and extending eligibility to first-year law school debt incurred by transfer students.

For students interested in pursuing careers in the legal academy, we welcomed the inaugural group of Academic Scholars this past fall. The Academic Scholars Program provides support to a select cohort of J.D. candidates who display strong potential and ambition to become professors. 

We also welcomed several new senior administrators to key student-facing leadership positions, including: Sophia Bernhardt, Director of Legal Writing and Moot Court Programs; Marin Conaughty, Executive Director of Registration Services; Danielle Schweiloch, Assistant Dean of Career Services and Professional Development; and Liliana Vaamonde, Director of Externships and Field-Based Learning. 

Looking Ahead

Turning our attention to the summer and the academic year ahead, I feel proud that demand for a Columbia Law education continues to be exceptionally strong, and the quality and diversity of our student body is the highest it’s ever been. We will continue to deepen resources devoted to student access and career choice, including by growing financial aid (with nearly 100 new scholarships created since 2015), expanding support for public interest/public service careers, and moderating year-over-year tuition growth. 

Making much of this possible is the generosity of our loyal alumni and friends, who have contributed more than $283 million during our five-year campaign. We are now poised to reach our $300 million goal on schedule later this year, and look forward with great eagerness to being able to begin a transformational renovation of the Law Library in Jerome Greene Hall. 

I want to extend my gratitude to each one of you for the role you played this year in advancing our shared ambitions and moving the Law School forward. As a result of your efforts, we can begin the summer with a sense of fulfillment at all we have accomplished, and with great hope and optimism for the year to come. 

All the best,

Gillian Lester

Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law