Professor Kingsfield Goes to Delhi: American Academics, the Ford Foundation, and the Development of Legal Education in India

55 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2005 Last revised: 21 Nov 2009

See all articles by Jayanth K. Krishnan

Jayanth K. Krishnan

Indiana University Maurer School of Law


On January 26, 1950 the Constitution of India came into effect. Nearly two and one-half years after winning independence from Britain, India enacted one of the most detailed, rights-based constitutions ever seen in the history of the world. The passage of such a democratic constitution was inspirational - not just for a country that endured centuries' of both informal and formal colonial rule, but also for those in the West. Many American observers, in particular, looked upon with awe as this economically poor, yet fiercely independent nation sought to embrace political and legal principles that had long been valued within the United States. The Ford Foundation - one of the world's leading philanthropic institutions based in the U.S. - soon also became infatuated with the promise and overall idea of India. For Ford, India exhibited great potential: its political and military leaders opted for democracy rather than dictatorship; its first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a dynamic, Western-educated figure committed to economic development and modernization; and it retained English as a main national language, thereby giving Americans, who so desired, a better opportunity to work more easily within the country. For these and as we shall see other reasons, the Ford Foundation began to take a serious interest in India.

One area that Ford especially focused on involved the development of legal education. Policymakers at Ford Headquarters in New York as well as at Ford's New Delhi office believed that for Indian democracy to succeed, the country needed to have well-established, rule-based institutions administered by those educated in the legal principles of equity, due process, and individual rights. These officials consulted with a number of Indian legal elites, several of whom had studied in the United States, and together these Americans and Indians concluded that law schools in India would be the ideal place to promote such legal principles. After all, having Indians educated in Western legal doctrine was critical for maintaining Weberian, democratic institutions; and the hope was that this in turn would lead to greater public respect for the rule of law.

Beginning in the 1950s, Ford thus began spending millions of dollars and decades of energy working with Indians to create strong schools of law. One of the first steps Ford took in its initiative was to hire a number of respected American law professors as consultants. These academics were charged with traveling to India, assessing the legal educational environment, and providing recommendations to both Ford and the government of India for how to improve the country's legal education system. Given that many of India's elite had routinely praised the American law school model, Ford worked under the reasonable assumption that U.S. academics would be in the best position to advise their Indian counterparts.

As I will discuss, however, this assumption proved at best to be questionable. To date, no work has presented the views of the academic consultants hired by Ford. For decades these reports were confidential and the consultants were equally reluctant to talk about their opinions. But perhaps because enough time has passed and Ford's involvement in this area has waned, I was granted access to all of Ford's documents on legal education in India. I also was able to interview key American scholars who served as advisors to Ford. In this study I trace the role American academics played in shaping Indian legal education. As I show, the belief held by both Ford and its Indian partners that the American law school model could successfully be exported to India soon came to be rejected by many of these U.S. professor-consultants. A consensus developed among these American academics that India's distinctive history, traditions, and legal profession - not to mention its economic struggles and political climate - would make it difficult for the American law school model to thrive in this environment. And to their surprise, these consultants found that Indian legal scholars, who were not affiliated with Ford, had their own innovative ideas on how to improve the country's legal education system.

Suggested Citation

Krishnan, Jayanth K., Professor Kingsfield Goes to Delhi: American Academics, the Ford Foundation, and the Development of Legal Education in India. American Journal of Legal History, Vol. XLVI, No. 4, p. 447, October 2005; William Mitchell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3. Available at SSRN:

Jayanth K. Krishnan (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

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