Clark Byse, 1912-2007
‘He was Kingsfield, but also so much more’
Professor Emeritus Clark Byse, celebrated as much for his toughness in teaching as for his warmth and kindness to students and colleagues, died Oct. 9. He was 95.
A legend on the HLS campus and beyond, Byse was a leading scholar in administrative law and was also known for his vigorous support of academic freedom. He was believed by many to have been one of the inspirations for the composite character of Charles Kingsfield in “The Paper Chase,” the novel by John Jay Osborn Jr. ’70, and the film and television series that followed.
“Harvard Law School has lost a legend, many thousands of its graduates have lost the finest teacher they ever had, and all of us have lost a friend,” said Dean Elena Kagan ’86. “No one cared more deeply about great teaching, and no one communicated that passion more effectively to his students. He insisted on excellence, but always with a twinkle in his eye. He was Kingsfield, but also so much more than Kingsfield—a wonderfully generous and caring human being.”
Byse’s published works include the definitive casebook he co-wrote, “Administrative Law: Cases and Comments,” first published in 1954 and now in its 10th edition. Professor Todd Rakoff ’75, who collaborated with him on several editions, said: “He’s somebody who thought that teaching was the heart of the Law School enterprise. He was demanding of students but also clearly loved his students.”
After receiving his B.Ed. degree from Oshkosh State Teachers College in 1935, Byse attended the University of Wisconsin Law School and received his LL.B. in 1938. He began his teaching career the following year at the University of Iowa. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy and as an attorney with the Board of Economic Warfare. He also spent a year at the Securities and Exchange Commission after the war, before becoming an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1946. He joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 1957.
Byse was named the Bussey Professor of Law in 1970 and the Byrne Professor of Administrative Law in 1976. In 1983, he became professor emeritus and taught as a visiting professor at the Boston University School of Law.
Byse became president of the American Association of University Professors, an organization devoted to preserving academic freedom, in the mid-1960s. “Teachers in institutions of higher learning must be as free as possible from restraints and pressures which inhibit thought and action,” he wrote in a Harvard Law Review article in 1959.
In recognition of Byse’s commitment to the legal academy, the HLS Graduate Program established six S.J.D. fellowships in his honor in October 1999.
In 2000, Byse was awarded the Harvard Law School Association Award, the highest honor given by the association, for his extraordinary service to the legal profession as well as to the public welfare. That same year, he also received the Silver Shingle Award from Boston University School of Law and the Distinguished Columbian in Teaching Award from Columbia Law School, where he received his LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees.
“He was highly regarded by his colleagues for his judgment,” said HLS Professor Emeritus Bernard Wolfman, who knew Byse for over 50 years, going back to when Byse taught Wolfman’s contracts class at the University of Pennsylvania. “You could go by his office, and you would very often find a colleague asking for his advice on something. And, where he thought he could contribute, he never hesitated to do so.”
According to the wishes of the Byse family, contributions in his memory can be made to the Byse Fellowship Fund and addressed to: Daniel Hart, Harvard Law School, 125 Mt. Auburn St., 4th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02138. Donations in memory of Byse can also be made to Pine Street Inn, 444 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02118.