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A Good Choice for General Counsel?

Sandhya Subramanian.jpgWhen the administration announced that erstwhile Oberlin general counsel Sandhya Subramanian would be replacing retiring Bob Donin as the College top lawyer, my metaphorical switchboard lit up with calls. After all, the Hanlon administration now has a well deserved reputation for poor choices in hiring (think VP for Advancement Bob Lasher, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Inge-Lise Ameer, Provost Carolyn Dever, Dean of the Faculty Bruce Duthu, Dean of the College Rebecca Biron, Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives Denise Anthony, and so on).

More worrisome signs: as a Yale undergraduate, Subramanian had majored in both chemistry and, um, women’s studies (Carolyn Dever’s suspect field). She had worked as the chief attorney for the U.S. Department of Education Cleveland Office for Civil Rights (the national Office of Civil Rights brought us the “Dear Colleague” letter with which the feds effectively took over the enforcement of sexual assault infractions on college campuses); and she was the general counsel for eight years at Oberlin College (the object of a New Yorker profile that made the place look like the national HQ for what the Brits call the Looney Left). You could even add the Yale Law School to that worrisome list, also the alma mater of Catherine Lhamon, who has proven an unflinching social justice warrior as the U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights.

But then I looked more closely at Subramanian’s dates. She had worked in the federal government from 2000-2008. The College’s press release notes, “in 2000, she joined the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division as special counsel in the special litigation section. She received five performance awards during her time at Justice and at the Department of Education, which she joined in 2005.” In early 2008 she left the feds for Oberlin.

That makes eight years of public service in the Bush administration, with Subramanian departing when the presidency of Barack Obama loomed on the horizon. Hmmm.

The search committee that picked Subramanian also initially seemed suspect — it was chaired, for some mysterious reason, by the College’s top PR guy, Justin Anderson, and included Associate Professor of Government Sonu Bedi, Provost Carolyn Dever, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Evelynn Ellis, Geisel Dean of Faculty Affairs and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion Leslie Henderson, Tuck Dean for Innovation and Growth Punam Keller, EVP Rick Mills; and Dartmouth Trustee and attorney Ben Wilson ‘73. Leaving aside the usual diversity forever suspects, both Mills and Wilson have worked extensively as lawyers in the real world. My sense is that they would not cotton to a radical without technical skills in a job requiring real expertise.

So let’s welcome Sandhya Subramanian to Hanover as our new general counsel, and hope that she is both an adult and a good lawyer. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; one can never really know who someone is via the hiring process. But we can all agree that the Hanlon administration would certainly be improved by the addition of a serious person.

Addendum: The GC’s office is a vital, behind-the-scene actor at the College. It weighs in on many decisions great and small, and word is that Bob Donin’s office routinely put the kibosh on any idea that held even a whiff of liability risk. Will Subramanian bring some common sense with her, too?

Addendum: In the year following her graduation from the Yale Law School in 1996, Subramanian jointly published an article — Mrs. Dred Scott — in the Yale Law Journal with University of Iowa Law Professor Lea VanderVelde (a 1978 graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School). VanderVelde later turned the article into a book of with same title published under her own name only; Subramanian is only listed in it as her first research assistant. Here is its description on Amazon:

Among the most infamous U.S. Supreme Court decisions is Dred Scott v. Sandford . Despite the case’s signal importance as a turning point in America’s history, the lives of the slave litigants have receded to the margins of the record, as conventional accounts have focused on the case’s judges and lawyers. In telling the life of Harriet, Dred’s wife and co-litigant in the case, this book provides a compensatory history to the generations of work that missed key sources only recently brought to light. Moreover, it gives insight into the reasons and ways that slaves used the courts to establish their freedom.

A remarkable piece of historical detective work, Mrs. Dred Scott chronicles Harriet’s life from her adolescence on the 1830s Minnesota-Wisconsin frontier, to slavery-era St. Louis, through the eleven years of legal wrangling that ended with the high court’s notorious decision. The book not only recovers her story, but also reveals that Harriet may well have been the lynchpin in this pivotal episode in American legal history.

Reconstructing Harriet Scott’s life through innovative readings of journals, military records, court dockets, and even frontier store ledgers, VanderVelde offers a stunningly detailed account that is at once a rich portrait of slave life, an engrossing legal drama, and a provocative reassessment of a central event in U.S. constitutional history. More than a biography, the book is a deep social history that freshly illuminates some of the major issues confronting antebellum America, including the status of women, slaves, Free Blacks, and Native Americans.

Addendum: In a piece on the Hunt Scanlon Media website, the headhunters at the Academic Search firm describe the various steps in the search that brought Subramanian to the College.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

Someone hired in 2000, would have been hired by the Clinton Administration. George W. Bush (43) didn’t take office until January 2001, and it always takes 6 months or more to staff up. In all federal government departments and agencies, career hires would be chosen and selected by other, senior career lawyers, who can safely be assumed to be lifelong Democrats. [Democrat Congressmen certainly consider government employees a core constituency of theirs.] The political Republican appointees on top of any agency rarely are in a position to do more than perhaps veto a particularly bad candidate, as they only weigh in at the very last step of the hiring process, when there is little more for them to do, and the candidate hire is all but a foregone conclusion. And “squish” Republicans like Bushies tend to accede to the pressure of the career employees.

It gets particularly bad in places like DOJ Civil Rights Division or Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights, where the inmates run the asylum - the career staff there are all products of the same liberal activist circles, and they believe and enforce the rule that only left wing activists are qualified (if not entitled) for their positions, only certain favored and protected groups merit the benefits of civil rights laws, and they screen and hire their colleagues from ACLU and other activist NGOs etc. when they control the office hiring.

When, as in isolated instances, a GOP administration political appointee tries to restore the balance, by heeling more toward the center, the Lefties scream bloody murder and accuse Republicans of “politicizing” the hiring process, because those Republican officials are veering away from the established Left bias. See the unfortunate experience of one Brad Schlozman, who was Deputy Assistant Attorney General in DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Democrats in Senate/Congress usually are happy to jump on board and rake the Republicans over the coals for this ‘deviation’, cheered on by left-liberal media, of course.

Addendum: Lea VanderVelde, Josephine Witte Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law writes in with a clarification today (May 11, 2017)!

Dear Mr. Asch,

As the mother of a Dartmouth alum, I received the wonderful news that Sandhya Subramanian has joined Dartmouth’s office of legal counsel.

I would like to draw your attention to the presentation of our joint work, and my sole work. The article and the book are entirely different to such an extent that I believe they share not a single sentence. The article is an exploration of feminist methodology. The book is a biography. Hence, it is not true, and somewhat misleading to suggest that I turned the article into a book.

I would appreciate it if you would make this change to your article.

In the meantime, I will be writing Ms. Subramanian to congratulate her.

With best wishes,

Lea VanderVelde

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