In a final twist of cruelty, the final graduating class of Valparaiso Law School and the alumni did not get to gather one final time to commemorate their alma mater.
The COVID-19 pandemic prevented faculty, alumni and friends from saying goodbye together. So the institution closed quietly after the class of 2020 concluded their studies in May, ending a tenure in legal education that began in 1879.
Members of the final class and many of the professors did not respond or declined a request for an interview. But several faculty members shared their memories of teaching in the summer 2019 issue of the Valparaiso University Law Review.
Ivan Bodensteiner was recruited from legal aid in the 1970s to help teach in the law school’s clinical program. He eventually entered the classroom to teach such classes as civil procedure and civil rights, and, though he never sought the position, he led the law school three times as interim dean.
In speaking to Indiana Lawyer, he said his sorrow at the closure of Valparaiso Law School comes from his attachment to the students rather than to the institution itself. The closure, he continued, has brought “a lot of despair,” “a bit of anger” and “questions about whether it really had to end this way.”
He acknowledged the trouble recent classes had passing the bar exam but questioned the how a test that includes a large multiple-choice section can identify who will make a good attorney. Bodensteiner described the practice of law as a “people profession.” While knowing the law and legal procedure is necessary, the ability to work with people is more important, he said.
Rosalie Levinson was the first woman hired by Valparaiso Law School as a full-time faculty member. In her article for the law review, she said the law school knew it was admitting too many students at “high risk” of not succeeding in their legal studies, but she was hopeful the “bold programmatic steps” being taken with the curriculum would improve students’ outcomes.
She was also optimistic the school’s heritage would carry it through the troubled times. Its graduates had gone on to serve in Congress, as governors, on the benches in federal and state courts as well as working as attorneys in the private and public sectors. The law school was one of the first to offer clinical education and the second in the United States to mandate pro bono service as a condition of graduation.
Jeremy Telman highlighted how the law school pushed the university to be better. He recalled his promotion to full professor required him to affirm the “Christian intellectual tradition.” Describing himself as a “secular Jew,” he did not want to make a pledge with which he did not agree.
In the exchange with university’s provost, he came to understand the Lutheran tradition and how he could teach and serve the law school in a manner consistent with that tradition. Also, he came to see how the university’s support of the “secular law school” supports the Lutheran mission. And it was the law school that made the university a more inclusive place.
“In 1991, the law faculty ‘adopted a statement barring discrimination on grounds including religion and sexual orientation.’ … Over a decade later, the University adopted a non-discrimination policy after consultation with Dean (Jay) Conison and Professor Bruce Berner,” Telman wrote.
In his article, entitled “A Eulogy for VUSL,” professor emeritus Berner pointed out the legacy of the law school will continue through the graduates.
“To my pal, VUSL, stay strong, and in May (2020) RIP knowing that you will continue to make the world a better place through the many whom you taught,” Berner wrote.•