Harvard Law School Dean Who Started Jewish Law Program Steps Down

BOSTON (JTA) — After seven years as dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, a noted legal scholar, expert in human rights and a leader in Jewish causes, will step down at the end of the academic year.

Minow, who began teaching at the law school in 1981, says she will remain on the law school faculty and plans to return to teaching, according to a statement released Tuesday by the law school.

She is credited with diversifying the faculty, staff and student body, programmatic growth and record fundraising. Among the new programs initiated under her term is a Jewish and Israeli law program directed by law school professor Noah Feldman.

Among the students she influenced was President Barack Obama, who in 2009, nominated her to the board of the Legal Services Corp., which she now serves as vice chair. Among her other notable non-academic appointments, Minow served on the Independent International Commission Kosovo.

In the world of Jewish philanthropy, Minow served for four years as board chair of the Charles H. Revson Foundation, and she earned high regard for her leadership in advancing innovation in Jewish education as a board member of the Covenant Foundation. She is a founding member of the Jewish Women’s Archive based in Boston.

Alan Dershowitz praised his former colleague for never shying away from her Jewishness.

“One might say she is among the few in high positions at Harvard to proclaim her Jewish values,” which are reflected in her teaching and scholarship, he told JTA.

Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor emeritus, pointed to her involvement in Jewish causes and education. Among Minow’s one dozen books is “Not Only for Myself,” which draws its title from a quote by the Jewish philosopher Hillel. As dean, Dershowitz said, Minow “elevated human rights and globalism in the school.”

In the college’s statement, Harvard President Drew Faust commended Minow for strengthening the law school and making it more inclusive.

Last year, the issue of diversity put the law school in the spotlight. A student group campaigned successfully for the removal of the school’s logo and seal that reflected a former Boston-area slave owner’s coat of arms. Minow endorsed the recommendation of a committee to remove the seal, but also noted in her letter to the college’s overseers the importance of not forgetting its ties to slavery.

In April, a controversy erupted at a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when a law student asked Israeli lawmaker Tzipi Livni, “How is it that you are so smelly?” Minow responded in an email to the school community.

“The comment was offensive and it violated the trust and respect we expect in our community,” she said. “Many perceive it as anti-Semitic, and no one would see it as appropriate.”

The student later apologized.

The recipient of nine honorary doctorates and other academic honors, Minow last year was awarded Brandeis University’s Gittler Prize, which honors contributions to racial, ethnic or religious relations.

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