Big Man on Campus
Harvard Law’s splashiest new hire is such a star, he and his wife have a celeb nickname. Is Cambridge ready for the FeldSuk era?
Luckily for her, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan doesn’t look much like George Steinbrenner. But she sure has been acting like the notoriously acquisitive Yankees owner lately, raiding faculty members from rival schools at a clip that might make even the Boss blush. In the past four years, Harvard has managed to steal away 20 tenured or tenure-track profs for its staff of 92 full-timers. And just like the Bombers, Harvard shops exclusively from the top shelf.
The crowning hire is Noah Feldman, a constitutional law scholar pried away from New York University, and a figure for whom the terms “rock star” and “academic” mesh surprisingly well. The dashing, wavy-haired Cambridge-bred professor boasts the kind of CV that gets jaws dropping: Harvard undergrad, Rhodes scholar, Oxford Ph.D., Yale Law grad, Supreme Court clerk. In 2003, just two years into Feldman’s stint at NYU, President Bush dispatched him to Iraq to help pen that country’s new constitution. That Feldman was a Democrat, and all of 33 at the time, didn’t seem to bother the White House.
The job helped put him on the map as a public intellectual, and Feldman’s been bathed in media adulation ever since—celebrated as a wunderkind in the pages of New York (which tagged him “Most Beautiful Brainiac”), Esquire, and Men’s Vogue (in which he attributed his much noted sartorial flair to a personal motto, “Dress British, think Yiddish”). In the fusty universe of legal scholars, this is not exactly standard fare. Neither was the response to his new job, which reunites Feldman with his wife, Jeannie Suk, who joined the Harvard Law faculty last year and who’s no slouch herself: Her appointment came just four years after she got her J.D. from the school. Word of the teaming sent giddy legal bloggers in search of a nickname à la Brangelina (they settled on FeldSuk)—and also touched off chatter about how such star power would go over at Harvard Law. Brian Leiter, a University of Texas law professor who blogs about faculty horse-trading, says while Harvard Law is home to plenty of brilliant professors, the big egos haven’t always played well together. In the past, he says, faculty rifts have kept the school from pursuing talent like Feldman: Loggerheads-prone committees could never agree on just who to go after.
All that changed, though, after Kagan signed on as dean in 2003. And now Harvard’s hiring frenzy has set off a rash of poaching among elite schools, something that’s prompting deans to do more to lure—and hold on to—big names. NYU, Leiter notes, is especially known for plum perks. In taking the Harvard job, Feldman bids adieu to the four-story West Village townhouse his former employer had provided. But don’t pity the prodigal Cantabrigian: A lengthy $900,000 renovation is expected to wrap this month on the nine-bedroom $2.8 million manse with a pool that he and his wife are moving into just off Brattle Street.