Thursday, May 20, 2010

Kagan known for openness, assertiveness at Harvard

Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court, gets high marks as a peacemaker for the fractious faculty of Harvard Law School while she was dean. But even her supporters here say she also has a temper.

Professor Charles Fried, while calling Kagan "masterful" for her ability to work well with the diverse faculty at Harvard, recalled how she once blew up at him after some students said there were pages missing from a constitutional law exam.

Fried said he sent an e-mail to students explaining a resolution he thought had been approved. But, in fact, Kagan had worked out a different resolution.

"She came steaming into my office and said, 'Why have you done that? It's a confusing situation and you've made it worse.' She screamed and shouted at me and slammed the door and stormed out," Fried said.

"Two minutes later, she came back and said, 'I'm sorry I shouted.' I said, 'Elena, don't apologize, you were right.' "

"She was dynamic, aggressive, sometimes abrasive," said Detlev Vagts, a professor who clashed with Kagan over the appointment of Jack Goldsmith, a former assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. "There was quite a turnover of her top management group when she was named dean," he said.

Critics initially balked at Goldsmith's appointment, questioning whether he had helped write memos authorizing the torture of suspected terrorists. In a book published in 2007, Goldsmith said he had rescinded two memos — written by attorneys who previously ran the Office of Legal Counsel — that gave the military and the CIA broad latitude in interrogating prisoners.

Kagan was able to win strong support for Goldsmith and the faculty easily approved his appointment.

Vagts said Kagan, 50, was "dismissive" of him when he tried to express his concern over Goldsmith's appointment and later when he objected to Kagan's plan to group retiring professors near one another in a set of offices.

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