Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 is not just any Cornell president. Besides being an alumnus, a Cornell dad and a fan of strong coffee, he has also been a tenured professor of law at Cornell since he took office in July.
“I am delighted to be joining the faculty of the Cornell Law School,” Lehman said in a recent news release. “It is an honor to be a colleague of such distinguished and creative scholars at a school that has been the training ground for leaders of our profession and our society.”
Many members of the Law School were happy with last year’s selection of Lehman as the next president of the University.
“Our faculty was absolutely delighted at the choice,” said John Siliciano ’75, interim Allan R. Tessler Dean of Cornell Law School. “We would have been fortunate to have someone of his caliber join our faculty under any circumstances and are especially pleased that he is doing so in his role as president.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell, Lehman went on to earn a J.D. and a master’s degree in public policy, both from the University of Michigan. While attending law school, he was editor-in-chief of the Michigan Law Review.
Lehman’s professional achievements include preparing an amicus curiae brief for the Supreme Court on behalf of 72 Nobel laureate scientists and 17 state academies of science in Edwards v. Aguillard, a case which revoked a Louisiana statute that forbade public schools from teaching evolution without also teaching creation science.
More recently, as dean of the University of Michigan Law School Lehman was a named defendant in the Grutter v. Bollinger case in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law school’s use of race as a factor in admissions decisions. The case coincided with Gratz v. Bollinger, in which the court decided to stop short of completely validating Michigan’s undergraduate admissions practices, calling into question the use of formulaic point systems.
“Lehman played a key role in successfully defending the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action policy in the Supreme Court,” Siliciano said, “and for that effort, all of us in higher education who care about diversity are in his debt.”
But although he may be a Cornell professor, Lehman will not be teaching in the near future.
“I’ve promised myself not to make any final decisions about when I teach again until after the first year is done. But I miss the classroom and I hope to be able to get back before too long,” Lehman stated in an e-mail to The Sun.
Siliciano explained, “As a practical matter, President Lehman will be fully engaged in the job of leading the University.”
“We will always leave a candle in the window for him and hope to see him for the occasional seminars and talks,” he added. “He has a wonderful and engaging mind, and it is always fun to have him around. But we fully understand that his job now is to foster and advance the interests of the University as a whole.”
It does seem, however, that Lehman wants to eventually get to the work of a professor in one form or another.
“He has said in the past that he would love to do some teaching in either law or undergraduate public policy,” Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin said. “He likes to have contact with undergraduates.”
As Lehman himself said, “I do miss being able to participate in daily workshops and being able to block out long blocks of time to work on a single problem. On the other hand, my new role has brought me an incredible pace of activity in a wide variety of domains, and I am finding that to be intellectually exhilarating.”
Archived article by Brian Kaviar