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By: Peter Lattman
Trevor W. Morrison, a Columbia Law School professor and constitutional law scholar, will be the next dean of New York University School of Law, the president of N.Y.U. announced on Thursday.
Mr. Morrison will succeed Richard L. Revesz, whose 11-year tenure will end on May 31.
“N.Y.U. Law School has snared a prize,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for whom Mr. Morrison served as a law clerk, said in an e-mail. “Trevor possesses in abundance all the qualities needed to make a great dean.”
In recruiting Mr. Morrison for its top job, N.Y.U. Law continues a string of hires from Columbia, stoking the competition between the two schools.
N.Y.U. Law made waves in 2006 when it hired three Columbia professors, including the law and philosophy scholar Jeremy Waldron. And in 2010, a Columbia international law professor, José Enrique Alvarez, decamped to N.Y.U.
Mr. Morrison, 41, has been teaching at Columbia, where he also earned his law degree, since 2008. He took a one-year leave from the school to serve in the Obama White House as associate counsel to the president. Earlier in his career, he taught at Cornell Law School and served short stints in Washington at the Justice Department and in private practice at WilmerHale.
The appointment of Mr. Morrison, however, comes during a turbulent period at N.Y.U. Last month, the faculty at the school’s largest college approved a note of no confidence in John E. Sexton, the university’s president, handing him a humbling defeat at a time when he had embarked on an aggressive expansion. The vote, a nonbinding resolution, has no immediate effect.
Mr. Sexton is a popular figure at N.Y.U.’s law school, where he served as a professor, and then dean, from 1988 to 2001. He is widely credited with helping make N.Y.U. Law one of the top law schools in the country, largely by aggressively recruiting star professors and developing new programs.
He passed the baton to Mr. Revesz, who continued to solidify N.Y.U. Law’s elite standing, hiring new faculty and spearheading successful fund-raising drives. He recently announced a revamping of the school’s third-year curriculum, which includes a focus on foreign study, specialized concentrations and enhanced hands-on clinical training.
A 10-person search committee was charged with finding a successor to Mr. Revesz after he announced his intention last October to step down at the end of the academic year. He will remain on the faculty. The committee chose Mr. Morrison over three other finalists, according to people with direct knowledge of the search. The other candidates were Anne-Marie Slaughter, a Princeton University professor who was named on Wednesday the next president of the New America Foundation; Sujit Choudhry, a constitutional law professor at N.Y.U.; and Jennifer H. Arlen, an N.Y.U. business law professor.
Born in Port Alberni, a small logging town on Vancouver Island, Canada, Mr. Morrison earned his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia and then came to Columbia to pursue a dual degree in law and doctorate in Japanese history. After a year focused on his Japan studies, he started at the law school and became hooked.
“I came to love the law and my focus shifted away from interesting but fairly narrow questions of Japanese intellectual history and toward a range of broader questions of public law and government,” said Mr. Morrison, who did not finish his studies for a doctorate.
After law school, Mr. Morrison clerked for two judges whom he described as major influences and mentors: Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, a federal appeals court judge in Seattle who died last year; and Justice Ginsburg.
It appears that a Supreme Court clerkship might be a prerequisite to becoming the N.Y.U. Law dean. Mr. Revesz was a clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall and Mr. Sexton clerked for Justice Warren E. Burger.
Mr. Morrison served on President Obama’s transition team after the 2008 election, helping to draft executive orders related to the future of the Guantánamo Bay prison and interrogation policy. Based on that work, the then-White House counsel, Gregory B. Craig, offered him an administration post, and Columbia accommodated a one-year leave.
At Columbia, Mr. Morrison was one of the school’s most popular professors, and in 2011 won the school’s top teaching prize. He said that he planned to continue teaching at N.Y.U., but would reduce his overall course load because of his responsibilities as dean. He also said that he and his wife, Beth Katzoff, an archivist and librarian at Columbia’s C. V. Starr East Asian Library, would move from Morningside Heights to Greenwich Village with their two young daughters to be nearer his new employer.
The N.Y.U. Law deanship is changing hands at a tumultuous time in the legal academy and profession. An oversupply of graduates and an undersupply of jobs, along with soaring tuition costs, have created a crisis. Law school applications have fallen to a 30-year low. The drop, some critics say, is partly the result of law schools’ overly academic training and their failure to teach students how to actually practice law.
Mr. Morrison said that it was crucial for N.Y.U. and other law schools to adapt and respond to the shifting landscape, citing cost pressures facing law firms, which inhibits hiring, and the chronic lack of legal services to the poor. But he also emphasized that they must be mindful of preserving the intellectual rigor of a traditional law school curriculum.
“What sometimes frustrates me in discussions about the crisis in legal education is that phrases like ‘critical thinking,’ ‘analytical reasoning,’ and ‘problem solving’ often get caricatured or treated as clichés,” Mr. Morrison said. “Great law schools like N.Y.U. must be attentive to the changing demands of a legal marketplace, but need not give up on the more enduring values of a legal education.”