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Despite the ongoing efforts of Brooklyn Law School’s dean search committee, the 2011-12 school year opened without a full-time dean.
Former Dean Joan Wexler’s decision to step out of the position last calendar year left the school with a void in the leading administrative position. With Wexler now serving as President, Professor Michael Gerber has filled in as interim dean, while a committee made up of faculty and members of the school’s board of trustees was tasked with finding a suitable candidate to take the reigns.
A series of interviews by the search committee during the Spring 2011 semester yielded two potential dean candidates: Professors Lawrence Mitchell, then from George Washington University Law Center, and Daniel Capra from Fordham Law School. However, both withdrew shortly after meeting with students near the end of the semester, with Mitchell taking a deanship at Case Western Reserve Law School.
While the withdrawals sent the search committee back to square one, they did not sit idle over the break.
“[O]ver the summer, we’ve been preparing a new set of material describing the law school and more fully fleshing out the position description,” said BLS professor and dean search committee member William D. Araiza.
The Dean’s Role and the Search Process
The dean serves as chief academic officer of the law school. While the governing board is responsible for many final decisions, it is the dean that is chief administrator and chief policymaker.
But BLS is slightly unusual in that it also has a president, despite its independence from any outside university. The school is currently structured so that the president acts essentially as CEO—taking responsibility for the non-academic aspects of the law school’s operations.
“Things like development, or real estate…the conception is the President would be responsible for those things,” said Professor Araiza.
The search committee works by first soliciting interest and locating individuals that members have determined have the qualifications to serve as dean. They periodically work with a search consultant who is experienced in locating leadership candidates for non-profit openings. After a preliminary vetting process, the committee seeks to ascertain whether any of the candidates are suitably qualified to be finalists. Those who are come to the school for a day to meet with students and faculty members, as Professors Capra and Lawrence Mitchell did in the spring.
Students have remained a strong presence throughout the search process at BLS thus far, according to search committee member Professor Claire Kelly.
“As faculty members we feel that our students are one of the best selling points of our school,” Professor Kelly said. “We have excellent students who make this an extremely exciting community. We have been delighted, although not surprised, by the strong student turnout at the candidate presentations thus far.”
Professor Edward Janger, also a committee member, echoed those sentiments, and reiterated the importance of the student body in the process.
“Both [candidates] were extremely complimentary about the students,” he said, “and we found the student feedback extremely useful.”
At the same time, both Capra and Mitchell removed themselves as candidates in a way that surprised many students.
“I think it was surprising that both candidates dropped out within a relatively similar period of time,” said Lindsey Zahn, ’12. “I don’t think it was unexpected for one candidate to renege on his candidacy, but it certainly was surprising, if not strange, for both candidates to drop out.”
Mitchell stated in an email that the “timing had nothing to do with the students nor the faculty for that matter. I did, however, make up my mind within a matter of a relatively few days.”
Professor Araiza said he was not necessarily surprised, but that he was “still disappointed.”
When talking with students at a question and answer session, Dean Mitchell spoke quite highly of New York, yet he found himself in Cleveland. Indeed, he even speaks of his love for New York on his welcome letter on the Case Western Reserve Law School website.
In an email, Mitchell said: “I have always wanted to return to New York, and have always had both admiration for and warm feelings toward BLS. In the end, I decided that the opportunity to work within a great research university with a first-rate central administration would give me the best chance to learn and grow as an academic leader.”
Could the search committee institute changes to the process? Mitchell said he “would have preferred that it begin at least several weeks earlier. By the time I had my callback at BLS I was already feeling some pressure to make decisions in order to be fair to schools that had moved faster.”
Professor Capra also recognized the natural problems at any law school and the complexities of the selection process. “The Deanship process in any school is problematic,” he acknowledged, “because there are so many constituencies that it is hard if not impossible to keep everyone on the same page.
“So it is possible to end up either with A) a candidate who tells everyone what they want to hear, just to get the job, or B) a candidate who says what they think and then is opposed by one constituency or other. This is not a comment particularly directed to Brooklyn. It is a comment about the challenges of any law school dean search.”
BLS is not the only law school currently looking for a new dean. Baltimore Law School is also in the hunt, after its former dean resigned, bemoaning the school’s lack of transparency and financial abuse at the hands of its parent university. Albany Law, too, seeks a new Dean, after its former dean officially resigned at the end of his contract this past June. And according to the law blog The Faculty Lounge, other law schools continuing dean searches into this academic year include Washington & Lee, University of Wisconsin, Saint Louis University, Texas Tech, and Stetson University Law School. One might surmise that searches in Florida, Texas or Wisconsin would have no bearing on Brooklyn’s search, but given Dean Mitchell’s decision to choose Case Western in Ohio over a hometown institution, it is clear that the competition is nationwide.
Case Western’s struggle to find a dean was pointed and traumatic. Several alumni started up the website Case Against Smith to protest the potential choice of a conservative nominee for the deanship. Mitchell’s decision to take the reigns of CWR was such a relief that the website now features only a clip of the popular 1969 hit “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” with the written message, “Academic leadership is no place for activists with a political agenda.”
While activism in the dean search may not be rampant at BLS, students do want to be more involved.
Sarah DeStefano, ’12, noted that her undergraduate university searched for a dean while she was there and suggested, as was the case at her undergraduate institution, that a student be involved on the search committee — someone who, even if they have “no real power to choose…could voice their opinions to the other committee members.”
Last year, Professor Araiza served as a liaison between the student body and the committee, providing information on the candidates and when they would be visiting the school. A website set up on BLS Connect still features the Mitchell and Capra discussions but has not been updated since the Spring 2011 semester.
Regardless of all the complications, or whether the student body is represented in the search, Professor Araiza now makes it clear: “We are going to have a new Dean. It’s just a matter of when.”
Welcome to The BLS Advocate, a new online news publication and online community for students, alumni, faculty and staff of Brooklyn Law School.
Our mission is to bring the BLS community together in an interactive space. This is a website of BLS students, by BLS students, and for BLS students.
The Justinian, the original student newspaper at BLS, is now collecting dust in the school library. It has been many years since Brooklyn Law School students had a space to report their news and express their views. There is so much that goes on at our school every day, and without a record of these developments these events will simply become forgotten history.
It is no secret that law school can be a stressful time, from the competitive grading system to searching for a job in a tough economy. That’s why we’re envisioning more than just a newspaper; the Advocate will be a forum where members of our community can share their perspectives, help each other out, and air their concerns. We will do this by featuring student perspectives on a wide range of topics from the dean search to finals-friendly recipes.
Please join us! Check our site regularly for new articles, images and commentary. Feel free to comment on any of our articles. Submit story ideas to our editorial team or, even better, write an article on an event or issue that of your own interest. We hope to expand our team in the coming months.
Thanks for visiting!
In the middle of a steamy New Orleans summer, Brooklyn Law School student Dwayne Thomas, ’13, traveled Big Easy streets on a mission. He needed to track down a set of court documents that might prove one unfortunate Louisiana inmate not guilty.
“My first thought coming into law school was to get people out [of jail] who were wrongfully convicted,” said Thomas. His sleuthing brought him to a local courthouse, where he finally obtained a set of old documents that may turn the case around.
When he decided to go to law school, Thomas didn’t know for sure whether he wanted to go into public interest law. But having grown up in the projects of Jamaica, Queens, he knew that an education in law could equip him with the tools needed to help reverse the high incarceration rate his friends faced growing up. That thought led him to the Innocence Project New Orleans, a non-profit that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted prisoners in the deep South.
This summer, Thomas was one of more than 450 students who participated in the BLS Public Service Grant program, which for the past decade has provided students with a stipend of up to $5000 for summer work in the public sector — either in government, with a judge’s chambers, or at a not-for-profit organization.
Florence Attino, Associate Director of Financial Aid, likened the program to a “mini corporation” due to the sheer number of students enrolled, and all the paperwork it entails. The program has doubled in size in the past six years, she said, due in large part to the drying up of private sector jobs.
“I don’t see it slowing down,” she said.
Michael Shearman, ’13, spent his summer working at the Securities Exchange Commission in Washington, DC, with the aid of a Public Service Grant. At the SEC, Shearman worked on international bribery cases as part of the agency’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act team. He’s also played a part in the investigation into the Rupert Murdoch-News of the World phone hacking scandal, as well as delving into other high profile projects.
“It was a huge factor,” Shearman said of the grant’s impact on his decision to work at the SEC.
Two other BLS students, Jared Steller and Neerav Shah, were also SEC interns this summer–no secret, since they were featured in the New York Times Dealbook blog in August, speaking about their internships. In mentioning his stipend to the Times, Shah noted that “[l]aw schools are making a real push to support public service.”
But many schools do not actually provide their students with the same level of public interest funding as BLS. Attino noted that the program is unique to BLS because, as a stand-alone law school, the institution does not have to share its federal funding with unrelated graduate and undergraduate programs, as others do.
And BLS students do not take the program for granted – especially those who had already lined up summer work in reliance on the grant when they received an emailed memo on March 1st, indicating that their summer’s public interest funding would be capped at $3000 instead of $5000 for the summer.
The grants are funded in part by federal work-study money, and the school has customarily matched those funds to reach the $5000 per student cap. According to the March 1 memo, the cut resulted from a decrease in federal funding.
Kristie LaSalle, ‘12, a member of the newly founded BLS Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (ATA), helped form the BLS ATA with several other like-minded students shortly after the announcement of the public service grant reduction. According to a statement LaSalle issued to the Advocate on behalf of the group, “[s]tudents met, town-hall style, mere days after the announcement of the funding cuts.”
The ATA explained that this “student outcry” over the funding cuts “arose not only out of concern for students’ own ability to afford the cost of living over the summer, but also out of a recognition that the decision reflected a marked departure from the school’s prior commitment to public interest and public service, a cornerstone of the school’s mission and a devotion for which it has gained much respect in the broader legal community.”
Fortunately for 2011 grant recipients, the school decided to restore funding to its original level, but Interim Dean Michael Gerber made it clear that next summer’s public interest job seekers will likely feel the impact. In an email to the BLS community announcing that grants would be restored to the original level, he wrote:
“This decision…does not come without cost. We will maintain the grant amount by using our entire FY 2012 federal work-study grant in the summer of 2011, as well as expending substantial additional Brooklyn Law School funds.
“While we will tirelessly continue to pursue other sources of funding for 2012, it is likely that reductions in federal support will continue. As a result, it is difficult to predict what the structure of the program for summer 2012 will be, although it is certain to be substantially restructured and grants will almost certainly be reduced.”
According to the new BLS development director, Jean Smith, the school has not yet found a donor to endow the public service grant program.
However, “whenever we reach out to people for fundraising purposes our primary push is financial support for our students,” Smith said by email.
For those still concerned about the issue of transparency within the BLS administration, LaSalle says that the BLS ATA plans to act as a liaison between students and the administration, “not only for the public service grant issue, but for many issues that deeply impact students’ lives and experiences at BLS.”
Betsy Kane, director of public service programs, suggests that students prepare for the upcoming summer by seeking other sources of funding for public interest work, including the Sparer or BLSPI fellowships, and non-BLS affiliated grants such as the Equal Justice Works stipend, the Charles H. Revson Law Students Public Interest Fellowship, or the Peggy Browning labor grant.
Both Thomas and Shearman admitted that they may not continue public interest work for their entire legal careers, but they are grateful for the opportunities they had this summer.
“Before you go to law school you have no idea what being a lawyer is like,” said Thomas. “[Now] I have a better idea of what I want to do when I get out.”
Professor Irina Manta is visiting BLS this academic year from Case Western Law School, where she focuses on property and intellectual property studies. This year, she’ll be teaching Trademark / Unfair Competition Law and International IP for the Fall semester, and Property in the Spring.
Professor Manta graduated from Yale Law School, where she was Tributes Editor of the Yale Law Journal, Articles Editor of the Yale Law and Policy Review, and an editor of the Yale Journal on Regulation. She then clerked for Judge Morris S. Arnold of the U.S.Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. She has written on subjects ranging from whether trademark registration should be privatized, to the first amendment implications of school vouchers. Her most recent article (available here) tracks the reasons why violations of copyright and trademark law (“soft” IP) are often subject to criminal law, but patent (“hard” IP) violations are not.
Recently, the Advocate and Professor Manta sat down at our respective desks for an email Q&A touching on how she first became interested in the law, the unexpected joys of Federal Income Tax, and what she’s looking forward to this year at BLS.
BLSA: What first got you interested in the law, and IP specifically?
IM: I developed an initial interest in the law as early as high school, although I was equally curious about the field of psychology (which ended up being my college major and continues to be an important element of my scholarship). Questions of substantive justice and policy – but also of procedural fairness and efficiency – were on my mind during much of college, and taking an undergraduate course in constitutional law cemented my desire to go to law school. I became interested in IP during my 1L year in part because resolving questions in that area forces us to dig into matters of human cognition and other psychological processes. The litigation-related work I did as a summer associate in New York at a law firm with a large IP practice subsequently formed the basis for my first article on the subject.
BLSA: Who was a professor or teacher who really made an impact on you?
IM: Prof. Hilary Blumberg from the Yale School of Medicine, who was my mentor and senior essay adviser while I was an undergraduate student, tops that list. She exemplifies all the best qualities one could find in an academic – commitment to cutting-edge research and scholarship, willingness to guide students as they experiment with new ideas and techniques, and the ability to always maintain the highest standards of both ethics and compassion for those around her. I really cannot say enough good things about Hilary and remain in touch with her to this day.
BLSA: What law school class did you find unexpectedly helpful/interesting?
IM: Federal Income Taxation turned out to be more intriguing than I would have expected. The professor (Anne Alstott) truly brought the subject to life in surprising ways, and the lessons one learns about matters of statutory interpretation maintain great relevance as one studies other areas of the law.
BLSA: Can you talk a little bit about your experience clerking after law school? Was there a particular reason why you chose to clerk, and why in the 8th Circuit? Were there particular cases that came before Judge Arnold in your time there that you were excited to play a part in?
IM: I really enjoyed my clerkship with Judge Arnold. Being able to watch the judicial decision-making process from close up provides unique lessons that shape one’s understanding of cases for one’s entire legal career. The 8th Circuit has a diverse docket that I enjoyed, and it was a privilege to clerk for Judge Arnold. The opinions that he wrote that year and for which I provided assistance included an interstate commerce clause case involving limitations on farm ownership, and a case in which the 8th Circuit overturned the imposition of the death penalty against a defendant who had not had the opportunity to demonstrate that his mental retardation precluded his execution (the defendant ultimately won on remand and was not executed).
BLSA: What’s the difference between teaching a first year law course and teaching upper level law students? And is there a difference in teaching something like Trademark, which is constantly in the news, and Property, which has remained more or less static? If so, how do you address that?
IM: 1L students will sometimes tell me that they initially approached Property with a degree of skepticism because many of the doctrines date so far back, but by the end they felt that a significant part of this body of law remains very relevant and interesting today. One of the things I have done in a number of the courses I teach, including Property, is to take a few minutes at the beginning of each class to discuss recent news stories related to that area of the law. This allows students to connect with the materials in a different way and begin to notice how much is actually still happening today.
BLSA: Your most recent paper focuses on the rationale for why the U.S. provides criminal enforcement of copyright/trademark law, but not patent. What are some of the issues that criminalization of soft IP creates, and what factors keep gov’t from extending this enforcement to patent?
IM: To put it in a nutshell, the reasons why there are no criminal laws related to patents today is a combination of 1) the essential differences between soft IP and patents, 2) the fact that there is a greater risk of overdeterrence in the patent context due to these differences should criminal sanctions be introduced, 3) the issue that modern technologies have had a greater effect on increasing the level of soft IP infringement versus patent infringement, and 4) a state of affairs where the lobbies for soft IP tend to unite around a desire for stronger protections whereas the main patent constituents (especially big pharma and IT) are not all on the same page when it comes to that. One of the main issues I point out with criminal enforcement for soft IP is in the area of non-commercial copyright infringement, where I question some of the rationales behind criminalization and ultimately its effectiveness.
BLSA: Given a tough job market and endlessly depressing NY Times features, what do you think is the most important thing today’s law students should keep in mind?
IM: As trite as it sounds, all you can do is try your best. Work hard, get to know your professors, and keep your ears open for opportunities. I also think it’s worthwhile for students to connect with upperclassmen because those will be the people “in the trenches” one or two years before oneself and they could have valuable tips as to openings or other matters. I am happy to talk to students who would like more individual advice on their situations.
BLSA: What are you looking forward to most about spending this year in Brooklyn?
IM: BLS has a fantastic faculty, and I really look forward to spending more time with them as well as getting to know the students! I am also very happy to be in NYC, which has a lively intellectual property scholarly community and where a lot of my loved ones reside.
Brooklyn Law School students concerned about public health and animal welfare have a new reason to be proud of their school. Responding to growing student concerns, Brooklyn Law School recently joined the majority of university campuses offering cage-free eggs in their dining hall. Conventional eggs — produced by chickens crowded in barren wire “battery cages” — are still being offered, but students may now request cage-free eggs at no additional charge and take comfort knowing that their eggs were produced by hens with enough room to turn around, spread their wings, and stand on solid ground.
BLS’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) worked with dining hall staff to introduce the new menu item, and we commend the crew for taking a big step in the right direction.
Although cage-free doesn’t mean “cruelty free,” the difference is night and day.
“Confining hens in barren wire cages is one of the most inhumane abuses perpetrated to animals,” says Josh Balk, Outreach Director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Each of these hens gets less space than a single sheet of paper on which to live for their entire life.” Every time a student elects to substitute cage-free eggs, she will spare a hen about 72 hours of profound suffering in one of these battery cages.
Battery cage facilities currently comprise over 90% of the egg industry, but that number is quickly slipping as more consumers and food service providers transition to cage-free eggs, including 64% of college cafeterias [pdf]. Many students prefer cage-free eggs for their animal welfare benefits, noting that battery cages have already been banned in California, Michigan, and the European Union. Other students cite food safety concerns, such as the higher rates of salmonella associated with battery cage egg production.
For students who share these concerns but are not yet ready to transition to a healthy vegan diet, remember to say “cage-free, please” next time you find yourselves grabbing a quick pre-class breakfast. And don’t forget to thank the dining hall staff for making our school a healthier and more humane place to be.