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Christopher F. Edley Jr. Biography

Selected writings


Law school dean

Christopher F. Edley Jr., a longtime Harvard law professor and public-policy expert on affirmative action, became dean of the renowned Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley in 2004. His appointment made him the first African American to head a major U.S. law school. "I chose him because he is absolutely outstanding," a Black Issues in Higher Education article quoted the UC-Berkeley chancellor, Robert Berdahl, as saying. "He is a leader in issues related to social justice and has written some magnificent books on issues related to affirmative action and is concerned about civil rights and immigration, all of the issues that are important in California and nationally."

Edley was born in 1953 in Boston, Massachusetts, the same year his father and namesake graduated from Harvard Law School. The senior Edley would go on to an illustrious career, serving as a consultant for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in the early 1960s and taking over the leadership of the United Negro College Fund in 1973. Edley's father did much to publicize the memorable UNCF slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste," and brought in an estimated $700 million for the program, which provides scholarship funds to African American students, before he retired in 1990.

Edley spent part of his childhood in Philadelphia, and went on to Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College, where he studied math and economics. After graduating in 1973, he followed in his father's footsteps and gained a place at Harvard Law School, but took a break in 1976 to work for the Democratic Party presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, working in the campaign's situation room. He returned to Harvard and graduated in 1978 with a dual degree—a J.D. from the Law School and a master's degree in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Attaining his professional degree 25 years after his father had done so gave Edley a historic "first" at Harvard: he was the first second-generation African-American graduate of the prestigious law school.

Edley went to work for the Carter administration, serving as assistant director on the White House domestic policy staff for two years, and then moving on to a stint as special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Housing, Education, and Welfare. Three subsequent Republican presidential administrations hampered his future political prospects, however, and so Edley returned to Harvard Law School once again, in 1981, this time to teach. He became only the fourth African American in the law school's history to receive tenure. Over the next several years, he would take time off from his teaching duties to commit himself to other projects: he became national issues director for another Democratic hopeful, Michael Dukakis, in 1987, and served on the transition team when Bill Clinton was elected to the White House in 1992. Between 1993 and 1995, he worked in the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as associate director of economics and government.

Searching for a way to solve the divisive battles over affirmative action in the United States, President Clinton established the White House Review of Affirmative Action commission, and named Edley its director in 1995. In this role Edley was charged with trying to shape White House policy on the matter and provide some new federal guidelines. There were some in the Clinton White House who believed that such programs might be retooled as class-based, not race-based, but Edley argued in favor of maintaining rules based on race, and that policy continued. The reviews and suggestions were collated in Clinton's official "Mend It, Don't End It" policy.

His experiences in Washington convinced Edley that a more substantial effort was needed in academia, and back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1996 he co-founded the Civil Rights Project (CRP) at Harvard University. The CRP conducts and publishes research on civil rights issues, and works to shape public policy for a truly multicultural future in America. Edley's intense involvement led him to write Not All Black and White: Affirmative Action, Race and American Values in 1996. Civil Rights Journal writer Alicia Bond asked him his personal predictions on the future of race relations in America. "It depends on my mood," he replied. "Some days I'm very optimistic and other days I feel as though there are substantial majorities that are indifferent to the moral shortcomings of the nation."

Edley's high profile brought him another presidential appointment in 1999, this one to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Still active in Democratic politics, he served as a senior adviser for the 2000 presidential campaign of Democratic Party nominee Al Gore, and continued a longtime side career penning newspaper editorial pieces. In one that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2002, he voiced concerns about potential civil-rights violations in new detention policies in the post-9/11 world. He suggested that an Office of Rights and Liberties should be established within the Department of Homeland Security to prevent abuses of authority. "Over time, the tension between security and liberty will create corrosive doubts about the war's home-front legitimacy," Edley wrote. "This is because, even more than in conventional crime-fighting, we cynically see a political agenda behind every move, and many moves are altogether secret."

Edley's distinguished teaching career and leadership in public-policy matters brought him to the attention of the University of California at Berkeley, which undertook a lengthy search for a new dean of its Boalt Hall School of Law. Edley beat out 200 other candidates and his appointment was announced in December of 2003. The campus, long known for its political activism and liberal-minded spirit, would also become home to a new Civil Rights Project there, which Edley planned to establish in tandem with the Harvard Center. In fact, he told New York Times journalist Dean E. Murphy, he had been leery about leaving Harvard in the first place. "I tried to withdraw from this dean search, citing my deep commitment to the Harvard Civil Rights Project," he said. "And the committee's response was that I should come to Berkeley and build a West Coast Civil Rights Project, because California is ground zero on issues of race and ethnicity. That was an extremely persuasive argument."

At a Glance …

Born on January 13, 1953, in Boston, MA; son of Christopher Sr. (an attorney) and Zaida Coles Edley; married Tana Pesso, September 23, 1983 (divorced); married Maria Echaveste; children: (first marriage) Christopher Edley III; (second marriage) Zara and Elias;. Education: Swarthmore College, BA, 1973; Harvard University Law School, JD, 1978; Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government, MPP, 1978. Politics: Democrat.

Career: White House Domestic Policy Staff, Washington, DC, assistant director, 1978-80; special assistant to U.S. Secretary of Housing, Education, and Welfare, 1980; Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA, professor, 1981-2004; Washington Post, Washington, part-time editorial page staff, 1982-84; Dukakis for President, national issues director, 1987-88; U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Washington, DC, associate director of economics and government, 1993-95; special counsel to President Bill Clinton, 1995; University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, Boalt Hall School of Law, dean, 2004–. Also board of managers, Swarthmore College, since 1980; founding trustee, Working Assets Money fund, 1982-84; member on Commission on Policy for Racial Justice, 1984–; consultant, Joint Center for Political Studies, 1988-; and U.S. Civil Rights Commission member since 1999.

Memberships: American Bar Association; National Bar Association; Council of Foreign Relations.

Addresses: Office–Dean's Office, University of California-Berkeley, School of Law, 215 Boalt Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-7200.

Edley's wife, Maria Echaveste, a Clinton administration alumnus herself, joined the Berkeley faculty as well. He has two children with her as well as a son, Christopher Edley III, from a previous marriage. His own father and namesake passed away in 2003. Reflecting upon the legacy he inherited, he once commented in the Civil Rights Journal about his own generation's civil-rights work: "We grew up watching the successes of the older generation in knocking down barriers and advancing justice, but mistakenly concluded that progress is inevitable. We went about our own personal agendas and just assumed that justice would move forward as inevitably as the years rolled by. That was wrong—every generation has to decide how to pick up the burden and carry it forward."

Selected writings

Administrative Law: Rethinking Judicial Control of

Bureaucracy, Yale University Press, 1990.

Not All Black and White: Affirmative Action, Race and American Values, Hill & Wang, 1996.



Black Issues in Higher Education, January 1, 2004, p. 18; July 29, 2004, p. 22.

Buffalo News, August 24, 1996, p. B3.

Civil Rights Journal, Fall 1999, p. 5.

Milwaukee Sentinel, July 21, 2002, p. 3.

New Republic, March 22, 1999, p. 12.

New York Times, December 11, 2003, p. A39.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 23, 1996, p. A23; December 11, 2003, p. A21.

Washington Monthly, December 1996, p. 48.


"Christopher Edley, Jr.," Boalt Hall, www.law.berkeley.edu/faculty/profiles/facultyProfile.php?facID=4954 (November 4, 2004).

—Carol Brennan

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