November 27, 2002
Eugene V. Rostow '37: Dean, Scholar, Statesman
Sterling Professor Emeritus of Law and Public Affairs Eugene V. Rostow, a former dean of Yale Law School and an influential scholar and government official, died on November 25, 2002, at age 89.
Rostow shuttled between government service and academia several times in his career.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in New Haven, Rostow attended Yale, graduating Phi Beta Kappa at age 19, and then studied economics at Kings College, Oxford. He then returned to the United States and to Yale, graduating from the Yale Law School in 1937.
After a stint at a New York law firm, Rostow joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1938 and became a full professor in 1944. During World War II, he served in the Lend Lease Administration, overseeing the provision of supplies to American allies.
He was an early critic of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and, especially, of the Supreme Court decisions that validated the policy. His 1945 article in the Yale Law Journal criticizing those decisions became a foundational part of the movement to provide restitution to interned Japanese Americans.
Rostow became dean of Yale Law School in 1955 and served until 1965. He oversaw a program to revamp the Law School's curriculum, bringing a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of law, as well as increasing the number of seminars and the opportunities for independent study. He also built up the school's endowment and recruited highly respected legal scholars to the faculty.
Current Yale Law School Dean Anthony T. Kronman said, "Much of the Yale Law School we now know--to which we have become so accustomed by the passage of time--was built or rebuilt during Gene's deanship years. Gene's intellect, will, and character were molding forces in the evolution of the modern Yale Law School, and his legacy is all about us. Gene Rostow was one of the Law School's great deans."
After his time in the deanship, Rostow again entered government service as undersecretary for political affairs from 1966 to 1969. He was the third-highest ranking official in Lyndon Johnson's State Department and became well known for his defense of America's policy in Vietnam. He firmly believed that the U.S. had treaty obligations to defend South Vietnam and a moral obligation to oppose the spread of communism. He also helped draft a crucial UN Security Council resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Returning to Yale Law School, Rostow was an expert on international security and disarmament. He wrote in the New York Times in 1969 that "a balance of power is the only possible foundation for peace." He advocated building up America's defense forces and was a founding member of the Committee on the Present Danger.
In 1981, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to direct the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, making him the highest-ranking Democrat in the Reagan administration.
He became Sterling Professor Emeritus in 1984. His many books included Sovereign Prerogative, 1962; Law, Power and the Pursuit of Peace, 1968; The Ideal in Law, 1978; and Toward Managed Peace, 1993.
Rostow is survived by his wife of 69 years, the former Edna Greenberg; three children, Victor, Nicholas, and Jessica; two brothers; and six grandchildren.