By Andrew Cohen
When former Berkeley Law professor Robert Post takes over as the new dean of Yale Law School on July 1, he won’t hesitate to seek out a new colleague for advice.
“I surely hope to confer with Dean Edley, and I surely hope to learn a great deal from him,” Post says of Berkeley Law Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. “I think he’s done an outstanding job and that he’s brought great energy to the law school and enlivened its atmosphere. He’ll definitely be a valuable resource.”
Post inherits many valuable resources at Yale, where he went to law school and returned as a professor in 2003 after teaching at Berkeley Law for 20 years. But even with Yale’s lofty scholastic ranking and healthy endowment, the timing of his new transition still presents some challenges.
For starters, Post inherits the job on a somewhat rushed timetable with the sudden departure of outgoing dean Harold Hongju Koh, who will be named Legal Adviser to the U.S. State Department pending Senate confirmation. And then there’s the matter of running a top law school during a jarring recession.
“I don’t come in with a fully developed agenda,” Post admits. “This is a transitional moment, and I have to get into the office and learn. But this is a time of financial challenge for all academic institutions, and my goal is to protect and conserve the precious qualities of our institution.”
A Star Scholar
Post’s scholarly skill was on frequent display during his two decades teaching in Berkeley. He quickly became a leading expert on constitutional law—in particular First Amendment and affirmative action issues.
“I was chair of the appointments committee that recruited him, and he started here the first year I was dean,” says constitutional law professor Jesse Choper, Berkeley Law’s dean from 1982 to 1992. “I think it’s fair to say there’s no one around today who has been more influential in the development of First Amendment scholarship than Robert.”
Before joining the Berkeley Law faculty in 1983, Post clerked for Justice William Brennan on the U.S. Supreme Court and worked as a litigation associate for 2½ years. He later served as general counsel to California Governor Pete Wilson’s Independent Panel on Redistricting and to the American Association of University Professors, and has written and edited several books.
Longtime Berkeley Law professor Herma Hill Kay, the school’s dean from 1992 to 2000 and a fellow expert on discrimination issues in the law, saw Post excel both inside and outside the academic realm.
“Robert has done some truly pathbreaking work about the underlying concepts of discrimination and the ‘new federalism’ during the last years of the Rehnquist (Supreme) Court,” Kay says. “He was certainly one of our great intellectual leaders, not just within the law school but also for the whole campus.”
Kay thinks Post will also benefit from his stint as chair of the UC Berkeley Budget Committee: “I also served as chair of that committee. It’s very time-consuming and extremely helpful for any future dean.”
The Road Ahead
While aware of the adage “The only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there,” Post insists that maintaining Yale’s perch atop the law school rankings won’t guide his decisions.
“Rankings will not be our focus,” he says. “The focus is just on being excellent at what we do. It’s not a comparative approach, but rather making sure that the people who are here love being here, and that they find it exciting and stimulating.”
In April, Post returned to Berkeley to attend the Festschrift in Honor of Philip Frickey, a lively full-day symposium celebrating Frickey’s scholarship and teaching at the law school. It rekindled many warm memories from Post’s two decades on campus.
“It’s one of the very great institutions in the world,” he says. “I loved my colleagues, I loved the JSP (Jurisprudence and Social Policy) Program, and I loved the university as a whole. And Berkeley Law students are truly astonishing in their energy and activity.”
As for Yale’s law students, Choper says their school is in good hands with Post: “I think he has all the qualities to make a great dean.”