August 26, 2023Animal Law & Policy ProgramIn Memory of Bob Barker
Our Executive Director, Chris Green, reflects on Bob Barker's kindness and tremendous legacy for animals.
Bob Barker was a dear and sincere friend to the animals. I first met him in 2001, when he established the Bob Barker Endowment for the Study of Animal Rights at Harvard Law School. As the co-president of the HLS Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, I chaperoned him around campus that day and we all ate veggie burgers at the Harvard Faculty Club with Dean Bob Clark, which was somewhat surreal.
The previous year, Harvard had became one of the first schools ever to offer a course in Animal Rights Law taught by Steven Wise – a move considered so progressive it was reported on the front page of the New York Times. Such media attention is what inspired Bob Barker to make his first Animal Law endowment gift. It also encouraged me to resume my studies at HLS to take that first course with Steve, which altered the trajectory of my own career.
Bob Baker subsequently established similar $1 million Animal Rights Law endowments at seven other top law schools (Columbia, Duke, Georgetown, Northwestern, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Virginia) on the condition that they offer a course in animal law at least every other year and hold an animal law conference or other event in any year that animal law is not offered.
The impact Bob Barker’s endowments had on the then-nascent field of Animal Law cannot be overstated. At the time, Harvard was only the fourth school to teach a class in Animal Law, but now just two decades later, over 167 US law schools have offered courses on the subject.
Some in the animal protection movement actually criticized Barker for the law school gifts, claiming that animal shelters and others had more dire financial need. But Bob replied that if he had given that money to shelters, they would burn through it in dog food and cat litter in just a few years and nothing would really change regarding the legal status of animals.
Indeed, by ensuring the perpetual presence of Animal Law at these top institutions, Barker truly jumpstarted Animal Law as a valid and unique academic discipline in its own right. Without that support I cannot say for sure whether the receptiveness to launch our own Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard, and those at other schools, even would have been possible.
Accordingly when I last spoke with Bob Barker around his 95th birthday he declared:
“Giving those grants to the law schools was the single best idea I ever had.”
And it was not a zero-sum equation, as Barker gave both his name and tens of millions of dollars to a broad spectrum of other animal protection causes – ranging from companion animal spay-neuter programs, opposing whaling and the use of fur, and even paying to safely transport two rescued elephants from a Canadian zoo to a California sanctuary.
I am so grateful for all of Bob Barker’s generous support and the influence it has had on my own life and career. He was a true compassionate pioneer who will be deeply missed, but his impact lives on through us all.