Gillian Lester will end her tenure as Dean of Columbia Law School at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year, but will return to full time teaching  as a member of the Faculty of Law. 

After nine years as Dean of Columbia Law School, Gillian Lester will step down from her administrative roles at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year, according to an announcement from Columbia University President Minouche Shafik on Wednesday. Lester, who also holds the title of Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, plans to return to full time teaching and scholarship as a member of the Faculty of Law. The full text of Shafik’s announcement can be found below. 

Lester began her tenure as dean in 2015, after serving on the faculty of University of California Los Angeles and eventually as interim Dean at Berkeley Law School from 2012 to 2014.  She previously served on the executive committee of the Association of American Law Schools, and is a founding member of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, among other accomplishments. In 2022, Lester was awarded the Nicholas Murray Butler Gold Medal for her work on Columbia’s COVID-19 Task Force. Her academic work focuses on income inequality, public finance policy, workplace law, and the design of social insurance laws and regulations. Lester received a B.Sc. from the University of British Columbia, an LL.B. from the University of Toronto and a J.S.D from Stanford Law School. 

In her announcement on Wednesday, President Shafik applauded Lester for her work to expand financial aid at the Law School, including by creating 100 new scholarships for students and creating a loan repayment plan that Shafik called “one of the most generous of its kind in the country.” Since the beginning of Lester’s tenure, the Law School has also recruited 25 more full-time faculty and established six new law clinics. 

Shafik also announced she is working with members of the Law School Faculty Advisory Committee to identify Lester’s successor. In the interim,  Lester has agreed to remain in her position until the end of calendar year 2024 if the search extends past June 30. 

Announcement from Columbia President Minouche Shafik  posted  Wednesday, November 29:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

Gillian Lester, who has served as Dean of Columbia Law School since 2015, has informed me of her decision to step down at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year to return to full-time teaching and scholarship as a member of the Faculty of Law.

Under Gillian’s nine years of leadership, the Law School has recruited 25 full-time faculty members, expanding the depth and range of its scholarly preeminence and diversifying its ranks. The Law School has also launched a new degree program; established six new law clinics to meet the needs of underserved communities; expanded experiential and field-based learning opportunities; and created new programs to foster leadership development and strengthen our constitutional democracy.

Gillian has focused the Law School on cultivating a welcoming and inclusive environment, and reducing financial barriers for students to earn a degree and pursue the career path of their choice. She significantly expanded student financial aid by establishing more than 100 new scholarships, created tailored programs to support students pursuing careers in the public interest, and invested in making Columbia’s loan repayment assistance program one of the most generous of its kind in the country.

Much of this was made possible through The Campaign for Columbia Law, which raised more than $325 million over five years, in support of faculty excellence, student aid, and curricular innovation. The Campaign will also make possible a large-scale renovation of the Columbia Law Library, the early stages of which are now underway.

In addition to her leadership at the Law School, Gillian served with distinction on the University’s COVID-19 Task Force, where she oversaw the University-wide effort to ensure continuity of our pedagogical mission during that time of unprecedented challenge and disruption. We are incredibly grateful to Gillian for her leadership and service to both the Law School and the broader University community.

I am currently working with members of the Law School Faculty Advisory Committee on the process for identifying Gillian’s successor. Gillian has graciously indicated her willingness to stay on until the end of calendar year 2024, should the search for a new Dean extend past June 30. In this moment, I know you will join me in congratulating and expressing gratitude to Gillian for all she has done for the Law School and Columbia University.


Minouche Shafik

President, Columbia University in the City of New York

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