Kagan’s Harvard Hiring Record a Vision in White

By Kai Wright May 10, 2010

President Obama pointed out this morning that Solicitor General Elena Kagan, his pick to replace Justice Stevens, was the first woman to lead Harvard Law School. He noted Kagan’s reputation for broadening Harvard’s faculty to include more conservative viewpoints, to challenge the school’s caricature as a liberal bastion. Many have praised that record. But over at Salon, where Glenn Greenwald has been panning Kagan for weeks, a group of law professors have pointed out another fact about her hiring record: Kagan hired just one non-white faculty member for tenured or tenure-track positions in her years as dean, from 2003 to 2009.

When Kagan was dean of Harvard Law School, four-out-of-every five hires to its faculty were white men. She did not hire a single African American, Latino, or Native American tenured or tenure track academic law professor. She hired 25 men, all of whom were white, and seven women, six of whom were white and one Asian American. Just 3 percent of her hires were non-white — a statistic that should raise eyebrows in the 21st Century.

All those white men were, no doubt, the result of Kagan’s effort to recruit conservatives. Nonetheless, the professors make a fair point. It’s a point that the White House has already begun parrying. After Duke University law professor Guy-Uriel Charles first raised the critique in an April blog post, the administration circulated a memo arguing that Charles overlooked promotions and appointments inside the school as well as the offers Kagan made to non-white faculty — people she tried and failed to hire. Charles and his Salon co-authors were unimpressed:

Do women and people of color find a tenured or tenure-track professorship at Harvard Law School less attractive than white men? Do they really prefer to teach at less prestigious schools? Or if they only prefer not to teach at Harvard because of perceived hostilities to women and people of color, why is it that Kagan could somehow overcome these perceptions when it came to conservatives, but not women and people of color?

No doubt the subject will come up during the coming Senate confirmation hearings, so we’ll surely get to hear Kagan speak for herself on why should couldn’t hire non-whites. In the meantime, we’re working on details of what to expect from Kagan as a jurist on racial justice questions. Photo: Creative Commons/Harvard Law Record