THE VIEW FROM THE PODIUM
Thomas C. Galligan, Jr.
Dean and Professor of Law
of Tennessee College of Law
how do you like being a dean, he asked while scooping a handful of snack mix
from the bowl in front of him?
but I do get tired of eating that stuff in your hand out of little bags on air
planes. They both smiled.
to raise millions of dollars for the future of your great school.
like that, she said, sipping her beer.
were quiet for a moment, looking around the room at the groups of people
chattering away at tables or sitting alone at the bar.
Most of those chattering were people who obviously knew each other and
were catching up. The quiet and alone were younger, less secure.
One man continued to fuss with a leather attache, moving the case from
one arm to the other as he shifted a glass of red wine to the hand that had
just transferred the case.
you talked to any good folks? He
Do you remember when you were in their shoes, looking for work as a law
do. It was not the most pleasant
experience of my life. She
remembered the indelicately phrased questions trying to dig out information
about her husband and children without coming right out and asking.
Amanda, he asked, what’s the best thing you’ve done as a dean?
Tony had always had a way of playing law professor with everyone,
asking broad questions and then picking away.
Some people couldn’t stand to spend time with him because of that
trait. However, she was the
daughter of a lawyer so she had learned the game at the dinner table.
Tony didn’t bother her; she liked him.
an impossible question. Amanda
knew how to buy herself time to answer.
question is impossible.
what all those questions did to Socrates?
him forever famous? Tony parried.
him to drink, Amanda responded.
Tony gulped his Scotch.
Amanda smiled over the lip of her beer mug.
he’s fine. On his way to the
Amazon to be a tour guide; wants nothing to do with graduate school.
But let’s get back to the questions.
What’s the best thing you’ve done as dean in the last two years?
are exasperating, she said.
is your answer that you’ve apparently become somewhat more assertive in the
last two years? Is that the best
thing you’ve done?
prospective law professor shifted his attache.
Out of the side of her eye, Amanda saw red wine rock from side to side
in the glass–little waves of it.
millions of dollars? He asked.
flatter me. You know every law
school dean doesn’t raise millions every year.
he said. Excuse me, can I have
beer? The bartender asked as he
grabbed Tony’s empty glass.
thanks, water please.
the who knows what office? Development?
Business? Alumni affairs? Aren’t you deans always reorganizing things?
know things were actually in great shape when I arrived, she said.
The dean before me worked very hard to make things and people work
together and appreciate one another. I’ve
been the beneficiary of his success and hard work.
you haven’t reorganized anything?
when necessary; I mean a little bit, yeah.
then the best thing must be involvement in some national organization or
been involved but I can’t claim to have done too much.
what have you been doing? Have
you done a best thing? Tony put
the emphasis on done.
young man again shifted the attache, squirming, and this time, the crests of
the little waves of red wine spilled out over the top of the glass, hitting
his hand and the carpet below. Amanda
looked away so she wouldn’t embarrass him.
students? Educate the central
administration about the importance of law school?
Increase summer research grants? Create
a CLE program? Fund new
centers? Sit on panels?
Serve on commissions? Revise
all your school’s publications? Learn
all about technology?
you should be a dean, you have all sorts of ideas.
me; I’d be too darned impatient to listen to all those complaints and
suggestions and ideas. Hey,
Amanda, you are a good listener. Is
that the best thing you’ve done as a dean?
laughed. Maybe I will have
another beer, she said. It might
make you easier to listen to.
smiled and looked over at a group of people talking at a table.
she said. Look at them.
I bet they’re discussing something like the importance of critical
legal theory and economic analysis in any corrective justice analysis of
health care and its relation to e-commerce and globalization.
cynical, he said, beginning serious work on his fresh drink.
drink too much, she said.
you wouldn’t say that to anyone on your faculty? Okay, so I drink too much.
Best thing? Come on
won’t give up will you?
If I answer, will you lay off?
I’ll drink quietly and alone while you go off and eat a wonderful
dinner with your new colleagues and forget all about the people who made you
always love my parents, she said.
ha, best thing?
The young man with the
attache case shifted it again and this time when the wine spilled he tried to
move out and away from it. The
only problem was that the glass was still at the end of his hand.
And it was at the end of the hand at the end of the arm to which he had
just transferred the attache case. The
case cart-wheeled down his arm, hit his hand, hit the glass, and case and
glass and wine flew up. The man
reached out for the case to catch it but the falling wine glass hit his
forearm and what was left in the glass spilled all over the front of his suit
jacket and white shirt. The
attache hit the floor; the glass hit the floor and shattered; the law
professor hopeful stared down at both of them forlornly and without hope.
he looked up, everyone who had been watching the event, looked away.
hope he has another shirt for tomorrow, Amanda said, stifling the trace of a
matter, said Tony.
a Supreme Court clerk. We talked
to him today. But let’s get
back to the matter at hand. Teaching?
you did that before. How can that
be the best thing you did as a dean? What
did you teach, A Seminar in the Dynamics of Deans Who Used to Teach Contracts?
did teach a seminar my first year and I loved it. But last year I taught Contracts.
did you find the time?
was hard and I had to miss some classes but I made them up
you taught both semesters of a first year class that you had taught what ten
times before? And that was the
best thing you did as a dean?
expound on your point counselor.
Tony, you know I try not to be judgmental or preachy.
so I don’t claim that what I did would be best for everyone or maybe even
advisable for everyone.
okay, enough with the disclaimers. On
with it. Why?
when I first arrived in town it was like a whirlwind. Everyone wanted to meet me and say hello and size me up so I
met lots of people but mostly I met people outside the law school, folks from
the main campus, alumni, judges, lawyers, other folks in town.
And it was great. But it occurred to me that I was not meeting a whole lot of
you were sad about that?
who’s being cynical? I was
meeting students but I was meeting three classes of students. I was meeting student leaders and they were great folks but
they were only representative in the “elected to represent” sense
of the word. Then I also met
students who had some sort of problem or complaint.
In that way I saw a negative side of the student experience.
And, I only met students with complaints or problems who felt
comfortable or compelled to come to a brand new dean they did not know with
those problems. And, third, I met
students who stopped by or made an appointment just to welcome and say hello
to the new dean. Some of that
third group were really interested in getting to know me; others I think
wanted me to get to know them, if you get my sense.
you didn’t get a sense of the real ambiance of the place.
can be perceptive Tony. And, I
didn’t teach that first fall at all, which was a very good decision.
When I did teach in the spring, I had a wonderful time but I was
teaching a seminar and I only had about eight students in the class.
And, because it was an advanced class, they were second and third year
we are up to your second year?
And I decided I wanted to teach Contracts.
I mean obviously I decided that during my first year when we planned
the schedule but I am really glad I did.
it gave me a great sense of what the school was about.
It gave me a better idea of the ability and challenges our students
face when they enter law school in the first year.
Try as we might, the first year experience has a lot to do with the
atmosphere of a law school and it creates a lot of the memories our graduates
take away with them.
true; most of my clearest memories of law school are from my first year.
That feeling I got when I thought I would be called on and that sound
of my heart pounding in my ears when I was called on.
Anyway, teaching a large first year class gave me a better sense of
what my school was all about. We
have three sections of each first year class with class size between 55 and
65. I taught two different
sections of the class in the fall and spring.
So that meant I got to know, or at least teach, two thirds of
the first year class.
so you got to know people, what else was good about it?
I got to know my class more I understood more about the dynamics in the group
and in the school. I got to know
more about how competitive the student body was; I got to understand more
about underlying moods, hopes, and fears.
I got a better sense or feel for how the students dealt with
issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation.
I sensed how they felt my colleagues felt about and dealt with the same
your Scotch; you asked.
but you’re really talking about the benefits and perceptions all of us get
from teaching, aren’t you? Knowing
our students; understanding institutional culture; getting a sense of our
students’ impressions of our colleagues?
But, somehow as a dean I felt my antennae were out more than they ever
had been as a teacher. Things I used to think I could avoid or say weren’t my
responsibility were mine to deal with and understand. I couldn’t dodge them; even if I hadn’t caused them they
were now part of my responsibility and I couldn’t help thinking about
them–even if I couldn’t fix them–without lying to myself.
me give you an example, she continued. We
had to make a decision about access to some second year courses; the details
aren’t important. I looked at
the problem, and it was serious, and I made a decision.
I made the wrong decision but I made a decision.
I only understood why the decision I made wasn’t right because my
students communicated with me and made me understand why I had been wrong.
They made me see what I had not understood. Of course, some of my colleagues helped too.
But I was really convinced by the students. If
I had not taught so many of them I really doubt that they would have felt so
free to talk to me, e-mail me, and call me.
I also think that if I had not gotten to know them in the classroom I
would not have understood them as well as I did.
Teaching built a relationship of trust that helped us communicate
better about issues facing the school. And
I think when other issues arise I will have a better time communicating with
those students. One of the hardest things about being a dean sometimes is
gathering information. You have
to rely upon hearsay and you hear a lot about what a lot of people feel or
what most people are saying. What
you have to do is gauge how many is “a lot” and just what “most”
means. In situations, like that, relationships with the people who
are talking helps you sift through a lot of stuff and get at something as
close to truth as you can sometimes get.
good thing about teaching is that because I understand our students better I
am in a better position to talk to alumni about them and their experience and
it’s easier for me to champion their cause when I have to with the central
administration. I once heard a
story about Bill Hawkland, who was a dean in a couple of places.
He always taught.
once when there was a legislative hearing about the law school at which he was
dean and some budget matter was under consideration he was not at the hearing
when the matter was called. The
then chief financial officer of the law school sat down at the microphone to
answer questions. A legislator,
who was not particularly disposed to fund the item, boomed out: why isn’t
Dean Hawkland here? And the CFO
answered meekly but in a voice that everyone in the room could hear: he’s
teaching class, sir. He says
it’s the most important thing he does.
The legislature funded the item.
prefer to think of it as his truth.
Tony finished his second Scotch. Amanda,
it’s good to see you.
I think there’s another reason you teach.
I do. It’s why I got into this
legal education thing to begin with. It’s
why we’re all here this weekend, isn’t it?
conversation at the adjoining table about whatever key legal theory of the day
had died down.
hope so, said Tony.
why I’m here. Amanda smiled and
patted him on the arm.
some of why you teach is self-interest?
word, not mine.
suppose it is, yes. But it seems to
work for me. Can’t a dean be a
little bit selfish?
suppose, he said, smiling. Whatever
works for you
Amanda said, grinning broadly, what’s the best thing you’ve done as a
professor in the last two years?
resent being asked that question by a dean, Tony said, as he ordered a third