Reflecting One Month Into the Fall Semester

Dean Gillian Lester updates the community about new faculty, a 1L faculty-student lunch series, a univerisity-wide initiative on constitutional democracy, and more.

Dear members of the Columbia Law School community,

This past Friday marked one month since the beginning of fall semester classes, and it has been truly awesome to experience campus revitalized by the presence of our students, faculty, and staff. With our return to in-person teaching and learning, I am energized by a focus on reactivating a sense of community at the Law School, and on advancing an ambitious agenda of projects and initiatives for the year ahead. Let me share some highlights with you:

  • Five new faculty members join our ranks this year: Kate AndriasAmber BaylorMadhav KhoslaChristopher Morten, and Kerrel Murray. This impressive and diverse group of scholars, teachers, and practitioners is already richly contributing to our classroom and intellectual activities.
  • Building on the agenda framed by last year’s Anti-Racism Steering Committee, we have created a new 1L faculty-student lunch series, called “Beyond the Casebook,” focusing on themes of inequality, inclusion, and democracy. Anti-racism initiatives launched or deepened last year will continue apace, including the Anti-Racism Grantmaking Program, new partnerships with our surrounding communities of Harlem and Washington Heights, and a redoubled focus on inclusion in the classroom and in our appointments practices. A newly formed Anti-Racism Coordinating Committee is charged with ensuring that our work continues with vision and intentionality, strong collaborations across the School, and regular communication about progress and ways to get involved.
  • The Law School is taking the lead on a new University-wide initiative focused on our constitutional democracy—the crises it is facing and its future. Led by Professors Olatunde Johnson and Jed Purdy, the Constitutional Democracy Initiative asks the questions, ‘what does our democracy demand of us?’ and ‘what should a democratic constitution look like?’. Inviting school-wide engagement, the initiative will convene seminars and discussions, host events and programs, support scholarly inquiry, and more as it launches this fall.
  • As part of our larger strategic goal of expanding professional pathways, we have launched a new Academic Scholars Program to support and encourage students in exploring careers in the legal academy through a specialized seminar, faculty mentoring, and research and writing opportunities. We also welcomed our first cohort of participants in the recently created Columbia Clerkships Diversity Initiative.
  • We are thrilled to welcome Bayeté Ross Smith, a mixed media artist whose work explores aspects of race, justice, and identity, as the Law School’s inaugural artist-in-residence. We have also constituted a new Naming and Symbols Working Group composed of faculty, students, staff, and alumni. This committee will consider how we remember and recognize the Law School’s history, forge a collective identity through the images and individuals we honor, and catalyze community learning in an effort to broaden representation.
  • Two new committees have been established that focus on teaching and learning—a Committee on Teaching, chaired by Professors Bert Huang and Olatunde Johnson, and a Task Force on Grading, chaired by Professor Richard Briffault.

Across these projects and initiatives—and many more—I encourage and welcome broad participation of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Students, in particular, will breathe life into these undertakings and, in collaboration with the Student Senate, we have strengthened student participation in the work of faculty committees and working groups.

Finally, I want to express my sincere thanks for the extraordinarily high rate of compliance with the University’s vaccine mandate and other public health protocols so far this semester. As of October 1, 99.7% of Columbia University affiliates were compliant with the mandate. At the Law School, the number of reported positive COVID-19 cases has remained less than one-half of one percent of the Law School community since mid-August—and there continues to be no evidence of classroom-based transmission. Your diligence and cooperation have helped to protect the health and safety of our community, and I am grateful for your continued efforts to that end, both on and off campus.

I feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to be part of this extraordinary community and pride in all that we have been able to accomplish together. Eighteen months ago, we faced challenges that on some days, seemed insurmountable. And yet here, today, we look boldly to a future inspired by the imagination, optimism, and an abiding commitment to leadership in the law that has guided us for nearly two centuries. I look forward to a splendid year ahead.  

All the best,

Gillian Lester
Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law