A Message To Our Students
Teaching at SLU LAW
Forty-five years is a long time, but, on reflection, those years passed in a flash. One major reason was the interaction I had with you. You kept me young and on my toes. I often got out on a limb in class, particularly in my early years, but you never sawed off that limb, you always let me walk back. Once, getting wound up in a Socratic moment and looking for a precise legal response to a hypothetical controversy, I saw a hand raised out of the corner of my eye and asked the owner of the hand, “What would you do?” The answer, from a child visiting his parent’s class, was “I’d say I was sorry.” That bit of wisdom has stayed with me.
During my time at SLU, the law school went from a small, local school with a handful of faculty and entry classes of 50-75 to a major regional school with nationally and internationally-ranked programs in health law and international law that brought almost 1000 persons to downtown St. Louis when we moved to Scott Hall last year.
Teaching at SLU LAW is a privilege, not a job. Thank you for giving me the privilege of working with you.
To my Former Students
This past semester was my last teaching full time at Saint Louis University. I am writing this not to inform you of that fact but to use the occasion of my retirement to say something else – thank you.
It has been my privilege and honor to have had each and every one of you as a student. I have enjoyed teaching at Saint Louis University for these past 37 years but that is because you were students in my classes.
If I were to see any of you again in person I would do two things – shake your hand and tell you thank you. Since I may not have that opportunity, I wanted to do the next best thing and send you this note.
Reflections on Working at Saint Louis University
Although it might sound odd to use a Yiddish expression “beshert,” to describe how I’ve ended up spending 40 years at a Jesuit university, it is just the right word. It means, “destined.” Before joining the law school faculty 1971, I was working as a lawyer for the consumer unit of the Legal Aid Society of St. Louis on a daily basis with law students across the street from the law school when it was located at 3642 Lindell. The students got credit for assisting me on my cases, before we called it clinical legal education. The building, no longer standing, was owned by SLU and housed the Urban Affairs program. When my two year federally funded fellowship at Legal Aid ended, Professor Sandy Sarasohn, who was also acting director of Legal Aid, encouraged me to talk to then Dean Richard Childress about becoming a law professor. So I crossed the street and have been at the law school ever since. It was the University’s social justice mission, exemplified by Dean Childress, who marched with Dr. King in Selma, that drew me to SLU and informed my work ever since.
I hope you know how much we professors and the University gain from our students, and there are many examples from my years at SLU. Two in particular stand out. Back in 1974, thanks to the assistance of then first-year law student Jim Birnbaum (who had worked for the Wisconsin Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), we applied for and received a grant to fund an EEOC clinic for three years, and had a direct impact on the St. Louis legal community who represented clients with employment discrimination claims. In 1985, second-year law student Stuart Kurlander suggested and spearheaded my teaching a Jewish law seminar. We later started a Jewish Law Center and for more than 10 years brought in several Jewish law scholars from Israel, including the Deputy President of the Israel Supreme Court, Menachem Elon, the leading Jewish law jurist in Israel.
My father was a physician who was in private practice but whose fondest professional moments occurred as a medical student doing basic research and later as a clinical professor teaching interns and residents. When I joined the faculty in 1971, my father asked if I planned on making a career in teaching, but he wasn’t asking, he was giving me advice to keep one foot in the world and one foot in the academy. He died in 1973. For more than 40 years, SLU has enabled me to follow his advice, for which I am profoundly grateful.