Columbia’s Young to head law school

The long search for a law school dean ended last week when GW tapped Columbia University’s Michael Young to fill the post.

Officials have been looking for a dean since last fall, when nine-year veteran Jack Friedenthal announced he would retire this summer to teach at the school.

Young brings to GW a solid background in international law – he headed the Center for Japanese Legal Studies and the Center for Korean Legal Studies at Columbia.

“I will bring a little more Asian strength where there seems to be more of a European focus,” he said. “I want to give people a chance to look at their area of study from a different perspective.”

As dean, Young will face what has become an increasingly pressing issue in recent years – the law school building on 20th Street is bursting at the seams. Increased admissions have left law students spilling out of student lounges and crammed into hallways between classes.

When Young takes the law school’s top spot July 1, he said dealing with the school’s space crunch will be a high priority. More space, he said, means more room to bring in people from the Washington, DC community, something he is eager to do.

“You can’t throw a stone out on 20th Street without hitting a lawyer or a judge or a legislator,” Young said. “We need to make them a more vibrant part of the school. But you have to have space to integrate the intellectual community with the students.”

GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, whose long-term visions for the law school sometimes clashed with Friedenthal’s, said he will work “cooperatively and constructively” with Young to deal with the law school’s overcrowding problems.

Young said he wants to expand the school’s extra-curricular offerings to include more lectures, symposia and seminars with members of the professional community, but he said he also has his sights set on a school where law students sit and talk between classes about the twists and turns of the law.

“You need to have more space not just because people need to have more elbow room, but also so people will stick around and talk to each other,” he said. “I like to say, `Students pay $20,000-plus to associate with these people and get to know them for the rest of their lives, and we throw in an education for free.’ “

Young said his studies of international legal systems always have served as a good framework for learning about American law. He said he hopes to bring the same comparative perspective to GW.

GW’s location and reputation could give Young that chance – his international expertise will be a boon to the University, which boasts an international affairs school headed by a China expert and a top-10 international law program.

Trachtenberg said Young’s attention to international law will be a boost to the law school, which made it into the top tier of law schools for the first time last fall.

But Young said he does not envision his role as one of making changes. Instead, he said he plans to build on the success of what he called “an extraordinary school.”

“If you ask any law school dean in the country, they’ll tell you that GW has done some of the best hiring of any law school in recent years,” Young said. “This is one of the greatest faculties in the country, and that makes this a very exciting opportunity.”

GW students impressed him as well, he said. During a long dean search, he said they seemed “very much a part of the process, the governance, of the school.”

“I think that kind of lively, engaged attitude and approach bodes well for the profession,” he said.

Young graduated from Harvard Law School, where he served on the Harvard Law Review. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist for a year before joining Columbia’s faculty in 1978. He also has been a visiting scholar at several Japanese law schools.

“I view my job as dean as the conductor of an orchestra,” Young said. “I’ve got great musicians – my job is to make sure they have chairs and music stands and instruments so they can play what they want to play.”

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