Clark Byse lived up to the legend. Renowned as the model for John Houseman’s portrayal of Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase, Byse showed his distinctive style while accepting the Harvard Law School Association Award in June. After critiquing Dean Robert Clark’s introduction, Byse took aim at Jacques Salès LL.M. ’67, the most recent HLSA president, who had noted that award winners should make a “substantive” talk.
“I considered discussing the current status of the nondelegation doctrine in American administrative law or perhaps an analysis of the legal enforceability of tenure contracts in American higher education. Then I realized he couldn’t have meant that kind of substantive remarks,” said Byse. “But what did he mean? I do not know, and when I asked him, he gave me the unhelpful reply that I should decide.”
After 60 years of teaching, Byse could indeed decide. The Harvard Law School Byrne Professor of Administrative Law, Emeritus spoke about his career, “how an impecunious graduate of a state teachers college became a member of the faculty of Harvard Law School.”
It was a career, he said, marked by fortuitous circumstances. After graduating from State Teachers College in Wisconsin in 1935, Byse turned to his father for $200 to get an advanced degree in history. His father, however, would give Byse the money only if he used it to attend law school, and he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Law School. Byse’s father was so intent, in fact, on his son not becoming a teacher that he persuaded a superintendent to withdraw an offer for Byse to teach high school.
But teach he did, beginning in 1939 as an instructor and assistant professor at the University of Iowa, where he taught constitutional law, equity, and administrative law. After serving in the United States Navy and as an attorney with the Board of Economic Warfare and the Securities and Exchange Commission during World War II, Byse became an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1946. Byse joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 1957 as a visiting professor. He was appointed professor in 1958, Bussey Professor of Law in 1970, and Byrne Professor of Administrative Law in 1976. He became professor emeritus in 1983 and that year became a visiting professor at Boston University School of Law.
Earlier this year, Byse also received the Distinguished Columbian in Teaching Award from Columbia Law School, where he earned his LL.M. and S.J.D., and the Silver Shingle Award from Boston University School of Law.
Also, in October 1999, Harvard Law School’s graduate program established six S.J.D. fellowships named in Byse’s honor. The Byse Fellowships are awarded to outstanding students in the S.J.D. program who have completed their oral examinations to help fund their dissertation work.
The HLSA Award, the highest honor given by the association, recognizes sustained or extraordinary service to the legal profession and Harvard Law School as well as contributions to the public welfare that exemplify the values of the School.
Byse called his appointment to the faculty at HLS the apex of his profession as a law teacher. He praised his colleagues and the five deans with whom he served. Yet he did rebut Dean Clark’s contention that he practiced “tough love” in the classroom. It was love, he said, pure and simple.
“As richly satisfying as my collegial relationships have been, even more rewarding have been my associations with my students, a truly exceptional group of young men and women who have enriched my life and to whom I’m forever indebted,” Byse said. “I say to them and to all the School’s alumni, thank you for your generous support of the School and its mission.”