Amid much pomp and circumstance, Indiana Technical Institute welcomed its new law school by reiterating its vision of legal education, praising its students and faculty, and pushing back against critics.
The Fort Wayne college held a special dedication ceremony Sept. 14 as part of its annual alumni reunion Warrior Weekend. Indiana Tech faculty, students, alumni and members of the Fort Wayne community filled the gymnasium of the Schaefer Center for the hour-long dedication of the law school and investiture of the dean, Peter Alexander.
Guest speakers helping to commemorate the legal institution’s opening were 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller along with Katherine Broderick, dean of the David A. Clarke School of Law.
During his address, Alexander called his faculty, “courageous scholars,” and became emotional as he told the law students, “you don’t know how good you are or how great you’re going to be.”
Law school faculty along with the students were seated in the front among the other dignitaries. The inaugural class is small – significantly smaller than the law school’s much-publicized goal of enrolling 100 – which has only added fuel to the raging criticism surrounding Indiana’s fifth law school.
Yet, Indiana Tech 1L David Felts said after meeting the faculty and touring the facility, his decision to attend the new school was a “no-brainer.”
“I always knew in the back of my mind I wanted to go to law school,” the 2010 Indiana University-Bloomington graduate said. “I think it was perfect timing, perfect setting and perfect situation that Indiana Tech came about.”
Whenever Alexander spoke about the law school prior to its opening, he detailed the clinics, internships and mentor programs that, he said, would teach students the nuts and bolts of practicing law. He emphasized the curriculum again in his dedication speech, saying the school will blend theory and the history of law with practice right from the beginning of the students’ education.
His address also contained strong words for the critics in the blogosphere who have relentlessly questioned the wisdom of starting another law school and launched personal attacks.
“You see, people may write things about us,” Alexander said. “They may blog about us. They might even insist that they know where we are coming from and what really we are about. I can’t do anything about that and neither can you. Their slings and arrows are crafted in the darkness of ignorance and they take aim in the green eye called envy. But I’m really not worried about those people. I have a higher calling.”
The audience was supportive, applauding and giving standing ovations.
Alexander continued that the Indiana Tech administration and faculty have cast their lot with him to make law school more relevant, more rewarding and more affordable.
“So when people tell you about the law school and speculate about what we are doing or when they surmise that we have launched this effort with an improper or impure motive, would you please just do me one favor?” Alexander asked the audience. “Just tell them that everyone at Indiana Tech Law School is giving their very best.”
Also attending the ceremony were representatives from law schools around the country including Harvard, Washington & Lee, University of Georgia, Wake Forest and Case Western Reserve University.
Representing Indiana law schools were Frank Motley, assistant dean of admissions at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and John Robinson, associate professor of law at Notre Dame Law School.
Both Easterbrook and Zoeller described Indiana Tech Law School as blazing a different path in legal education. They focused their addresses on the school’s curriculum and its proposal to infuse classroom learning with hands-on experience.
“This bold new approach with its roots in our earlier legal traditions has great promise,” Zoeller said. “By teaching law students only how to ‘think like a lawyer,’ we have left it to others to teach the new lawyers how to ‘act like a lawyer.’ The oath of a lawyer requires that we serve our clients’ interests first, above our own interests or those of our partners or our law firm’s interests. And yet for many, the training of how to ‘act like a lawyer’ is left to the very firms and partners whose interests have become paramount in our modern day practice.”
Easterbrook opened his remarks by acknowledging the two questions many had: Why open a new law school when there are so many already, and why is he lending his support to Indiana Tech?
The answer to both questions, he said, was that Indiana Tech presented competition and competition that comes from trying new things and seeing what works is a core value of the University of Chicago where he teaches part time.
“Some new entrants fail, some succeed gloriously,” he said. “We cannot know which is which without trying. Indiana Tech is trying. Three cheers for those who try new ways.”
After the ceremony, Felts’ classmate Shawn Good remembered Easterbrook’s words about competition.
Good, a native of Chicago, enrolled in the new school over the objections of his friends who bluntly called him an idiot and moron for attending Indiana Tech. He interpreted the criticism lobbed by his friends and by others as fear because, he said, they see the Fort Wayne school as a threat, providing more competition and better training its students.
“I’ve got a lot of family in the legal profession,” Good, a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said. “This is a different feel and a different style of learning. I think it’s going to benefit all of us.”
Neither Felts nor Good are strangers to the legal profession. Felts is the son of Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts and Good’s father and older brother are both attorneys.
While the decision to enroll in Indiana Tech was easy for Felts, who said his father has been a strong proponent of the law school, the decision-making process for Good entailed his father cross-examining and vetting the faculty and staff. In the end, he said, his dad thought attending the new school would be risky, but the risk would come with high rewards.
One major risk is that the new law school must receive accreditation from the American Bar Association. Some speakers drew attention to Indiana Tech Law School’s challenge of gaining ABA approval and its need to apply for provisional accreditation next year. Indiana does not allow graduates of unaccredited law schools for sit for the bar exam.
Felts and Good said if the school does not get provisional accreditation, they would leave. However, they quickly added they were confident the ABA will give its approval, especially since Indiana Tech has made such an investment in faculty and the facility, and since Alexander has experience on the ABA accreditation committee.
The classmates are also confident they are being well trained in law. They said their classes are demanding but credited what they described as an “extremely attentive” faculty with helping them learn.
“I have never been to a school where I felt the faculty cared so much,” Good said.•