Stephen Ball, Ford School of Public Policy and Harvard Law School alum, was appointed as Harvard Law’s Dean of Students in Feb. 2022. After completing his education, Ball began working in the private sector and eventually was invited to return to Harvard Law as an administrator.
Ball participated in the University of Michigan’s accelerated bachelor’s and master’s program, which gives students the opportunity to get both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Ball said he was able to get his bachelor’s in political science and masters in public policy in four years due to his multitude of AP credits.
“I took two great classes in American and urban politics during my undergraduate years,” Ball said. “Understanding the different dynamics of politics in different countries was also a highlight for me. I even took a class on environmental inequality that is a great precursor to the discussions that we have now about inequity, pollutants and other environmentally grounded things that tie to areas of policy and legal challenges.”
Ball also said the Academic Advising Center was helpful in terms of pursuing internships and other opportunities that were of interest to him.
“I did an internship in the city of Detroit’s mayor’s office through the Ford School,” Ball said. “I think one of the beauties of going to a school like Michigan is the size of it … There are plentiful resources and opportunities that come with it. That in itself is just a microcosm of the value of the Michigan degree and the Michigan Difference. It’s great that it stays with you, not only as a student, but really for the rest of your life.”
Public Policy professor Barry Rabe, who met Ball through a graduate course at the Public Policy School, said his recollection of Ball was only positive. Rabe said he had great experiences working with Ball.
“I thoroughly enjoyed all dimensions of my engagement with (Ball),” Rabe said. “He brought tremendous energy and integrity to his coursework and was just a constructive presence in the life of the school.”
When Rabe learned of Ball’s new position, he said he was not at all surprised that Ball would move into a position like this.
“(Ball) is uniquely qualified, and I wish him a long and successful run,” Rabe said. “I think to be a dean of students at a great school of law requires intellectual breadth, but also a human dimension with enthusiasm for the work being done. Stephen is an exceptional role model for students but also an effective leader for faculty and staff. I just think it’s a terrific match and Harvard is very fortunate to have secured his services.”
After completing his undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, Ball continued his studies at Harvard Law School. Ball said Harvard gave him the opportunity to experience a different education in a new environment.
“I was thrilled to see that there were actually a decent number of U-M grads when I got to Harvard,” Ball said. “Even some of my Ford School classmates joined me at Harvard Law. There’s a different level of intensity when you get to professional schools, particularly law school. And so I was so thankful that I had that grounding in the crucible of being a political science major at Michigan and masters to help me navigate that.”
As a first-generation student brought up in Southfield, Mich., Ball said he never thought he would have such a vivid academic experience. Ball said both of his parents worked as Ford Motor Company employees before retiring, and there weren’t many doctors or lawyers in his family.
“Coming to a place like Harvard, especially the Law School, where it’s commonplace to have classmates who are multigenerational Harvard or HLS alums, was a new thing,” Ball said. “Those social dynamics are unique to elite environments, so it was very eye-opening.”
Ball also spoke about what it’s like to attend higher education when there weren’t many people who looked like him achieving the same things. He said that as an African-American man navigating new spaces, he has noticed the lack of representation in the law industry and is mindful of those who paved the way for him.
“Not having many people who share your background became most apparent when I started working,” Ball said. “Navigating the upper rungs of corporate America are spaces that are facing a dearth of Black, brown and Asian leaders is challenging, especially alongside practicing law. So as you try to obtain those higher positions, you develop a sense of not doing it just for yourself but also for your community and all those who sacrifice to put me in this type of position. It can sometimes weigh on you and add to the layers of stress that you already have.”
In regards to his transition to professional work, Ball said law school teaches students to be litigators. As a result, he started his career as a litigator, but then decided to work in areas related to policy, legislation and regulations. His work with government relations is directly tied to the things he learned at the Ford School of Public Policy.
After reading Harvard Law’s introduction of Ball, Dylan Horwitz, Public Policy alum and incoming Harvard Law student, said it was inspiring to hear about another Ford School and HLS alum taking over as Harvard Law’s Dean of Students.
“It seemed like a fun coincidence that (Ball) was a part of the Ford to Harvard Law pipeline (of) students,” Horwitz said. “I didn’t really know of anyone else who graduated from Ford and Harvard Law. Seeing how he was able to go from a very successful career in the private sector and transitioning to academia shows how experience and knowledge play out in real life.”
As for advice to future professionals, Ball said it is important to engage in your curiosity and to not be afraid of trying different things.
“I’m someone that doesn’t like doing the same thing over and over,” Ball said. “When you’re a student, you generally have the freedom to only think about yourself and what is of greatest interest to you. Really seize on that and maximize your potential. You’re going to enjoy your journey more if there are different legs of it and you’re not always doing the same things the entire time.”
Daily Staff Reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.