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Dean's Desk: Students, faculty, alumni changing lives for the better

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DeansDeskKlein.jpgA legal education gives people the power to change lives for the better. I am proud to share some examples based on efforts from students, faculty and alumni of the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

I’ll start with students. As the Indiana Lawyer reported in January, McKinney students are part of the newly established Legal Assistance Program, a collaboration between our school, the United States Attorney’s Office and the Indianapolis Bar Association. The program helps address the many issues that former prison inmates face as they re-enter society. Through this effort, recidivism rates improve and former inmates become productive citizens. McKinney students — and particularly our Black Law Students Association — have used the program as a springboard to do even more, organizing a re-entry job fair for program participants and supporting family members of participants during the holidays.

McKinney students in our Health and Human Rights Clinic also have been working hard to help those in need. Last year, Pooja Kansal and Katherine Voskoboynik, both now alumnae of the law school, reported on obstacles to dialysis treatment for undocumented immigrants. Through the same clinical program, recent alum Ryan Schwier and current student Autumn Hempfling conducted a study finding that driver’s license suspensions disproportionately impact low-income Hoosiers, often creating barriers to employment due to the lack of reliable alternative transportation. Neither of these studies merely point out a problem; both included thoughtful recommendations to lawmakers on how to solve these issues. In a bit of late-breaking news, the law school recently learned that state lawmakers will examine driver’s license policies during a summer study committee.

Not surprisingly, many of our alumni serve as excellent role models when it comes to giving back and changing lives.

Nancie and Michael D. Freeborn, ’72, recently received the IUPUI Spirit of Philanthropy Award in recognition of their generosity to the law school, including establishment of the Michael and Nancie Freeborn Civil and Human Rights Fellowship at IU McKinney. The first student who received the fellowship was able to work at Project HEAL at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the nation’s longest-running medical-legal partnerships for children with disabilities and their families. The second student to win the fellowship will work as a researcher in Santiago, Chile, with a governmental organization that assists all member states of the Organization of American States with justice reform.

Another McKinney alumna, Emily Benfer, ’05, led an effort to change federal housing regulations to protect children from lead poisoning. Benfer, who is a clinical professor of law and director of the Health Justice Project at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, achieved this change by noting the rise in lead poisoning among low-income and minority children. She pointed out that the blood level standard for lead poisoning set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was three- to four-times higher than the level set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HUD officials indicated they would address the issue quickly to better protect children from lead poisoning.

Our faculty is changing lives, too. For example, Professor Florence Wagman Roisman received an award in fall 2015 from the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award Trust in recognition of her dedication to teaching and inspiring her students. Professor George Edwards’ work with our Program in International Human Rights Law continues its Military Commission Observation Project. This effort allows McKinney students, faculty, staff and alumni to travel to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or Fort Meade in Maryland to observe hearings. Participants are given training in advance of their work and are charged with reporting on their observations so others in society can understand the true nature of these proceedings. And Professor Fran Quigley, ’87, directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic mentioned above. Professor Quigley is known for directing his scholarly attention toward those in need and inspires students to do the same.

Speaking of inspirational, I can’t neglect to mention my colleague, Professor Fran Watson, ’80, and her work with students in our Wrongful Conviction Clinic and the Innocence Project. Professor Watson took on the case of Darryl Pinkins in 1999. Pinkins was convicted in 1991 of horrible crimes that he did not commit. Through her perseverance, and the development of new technology, Professor Watson and her students helped prove that Mr. Pinkins was innocent. Due to this incredible work, a man who was wrongly imprisoned for 24 years is now free.

In closing, I often see the quote “be the change you want to see in the world.” I’m not sure who said it first, but it certainly holds true for lawyers who want to improve society. I am proud of my students, colleagues and alumni of the McKinney School of Law and the work that they do to create positive change for us all.•

Andrew R. Klein is the dean and the Paul E. Beam Professor of Law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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