Dean's Desk: Dean excited to teach, interact more with students this semester

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dean-newton-notre-dameI am sitting at my desk, back from vacation, swamped under the combination of the paperwork that accrued while I was gone and what seems like an unusual amount of pre-term work. I am realizing that I am also just four weeks away from teaching a four-credit contracts course for the first time in 10 years and wondering “What was I thinking?” Although some professors can glance at their notes, stroll into class and conduct a brilliant session, I’ve always been the kind that has to review everything, rewrite my notes and build up a certain level of anxiety before teaching, like the actor who falls flat if she doesn’t experience stage fright. In other words, I’ve signed up for what could be a world of pain in the fall semester of 2013.

A rational person might wonder why a dean would add another 15-20 hours to her already burdened schedule. The answer is simple: Having just been offered (and happily accepted) the opportunity to continue as the dean for another five years, I know that teaching again will enable me to be a better dean. First, being back in the classroom will be energizing, reminding me why we are all engaged in legal education, and especially why it is such a joy to teach first-year, first-semester courses and help 1Ls move from stumbling over the unfamiliar procedural terms and language (who remembers wondering what the heck “assumpsit” is) to a growing confidence in their analytical ability and early efforts to flex their rhetorical muscles.

And the cases tell such great stories! The cotton farmers who feel “sick as an old hound dog who ate a rotten skunk” when the price at the time of delivery of their forward contracts skyrockets; the good ship Peerless; the unfortunately formed nose … . I could go on and on.

But apart from the pleasure teaching brings me (and hopefully my students), teaching will put me in much closer touch with some 60 1L students. Strengthening communications with the students has always been an important goal, but for a teacher used to lines of students outside her office, lines of communication between me as the dean with law students have been much harder to open.

I’ve tried them all: So-called “town hall” meetings don’t really work, unless there is a controversy that draws a crowd. Scheduling around classes is an issue, and after-hours attendance by busy law students is often disappointing and not representative of the class body. Emailing information is ineffective (unless the email offers a job or states a bar deadline). I’ve also scheduled “coffee and bagels with the dean,” inviting students to come to a breakfast to discuss whatever is on their mind before heading off to classes. But here too, attendance is generally sparse. An afternoon session featuring cookies was also lightly attended. On the other hand, those students who attended seemed quite happy with the conversation as well as the food.

I’ve taken small groups of students to lunch, and it is great fun to get to know the group in a relaxed setting, away from the law school, but it’s not really possible to take all our students to lunch. I have also had interesting conversations with those students who visit me in my office, whether to share a concern, ask for advice in their job searches, or just visit.

But a student who might be eager to seek me out to ask why the buyers were able to get specific performance of the cotton contracts is reluctant to take the time of the dean to ask about other matters. In other words, none of these outreach efforts have provided the kind of daily contact with a fair cross-section of the student body that teaching a class can provide. And none include the joy of teaching students how to read the Uniform Commercial Code (Yes, Virginia, you do have to read every word!).

How could a code provision requiring assurances to be given in writing be enforceable without one? How can a field built on the notion that promises must be kept tolerate the notion of efficient breach? These and other puzzles require far more than the ability to memorize. They require an appreciation of history, of the theories of statutory interpretation, of business practices, and economic theories, and the great moral principles underlying the reasons we enforce promises. And in the wide-ranging discussions we have in class and office hours, I will learn so much more about students and they will, in turn, feel much more comfortable raising issues with me that go beyond contract law.

I can hardly wait!•


Nell Jessup Newton is the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School. She has served as dean since 2009. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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  1. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.