There is only one law school in the world, and only one, that has frightened and inspired us, so that we live in an adventure of continuing thought and wonder. Professors are caught -- in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity -- in a net of good and evil. I think this is the only story we have and that it occurs on all levels of feeling and intelligence. Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners. There is no other story. A professor, after she has brushed off the dust and chips of her career, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well -- or ill?When a professor leaves a law school -- whether she dies, retires, or accepts a position elsewhere -- the question is still there: Was her career good or was it evil? Envies are gone, and the measuring stick is: "Was she loved or was she hated? Is her departure felt as a loss or does a kind of joy come of it?"
I remember clearly three law school deans. One was the most pernicious dean in the academy. He pandered his way to the front office as a refuge from the rough and tumble of teaching and scholarship. He grossly misspent resources trying to buy the love of the law school's most repulsively selfish faculty members. By that process he conferred great rewards upon those who curried his favor. He demoralized the rest and cast his school into the hellish pit of academic kakistocracy. He did raise money and gratify donors, and the money he raised, quite arguably, more than balanced the evils of his rule. I was at a faculty meeting when news came that he had accepted a deanship elsewhere. The news spread among my colleagues, and nearly everyone (except those who had profited from his corruption) reacted with pleasure. Several said, "Thank God that son of a bitch is gone."
Then there was a dean, smart as Satan, who, lacking some perception of academic integrity and knowing all too well every aspect of human weakness and wickedness, used his special knowledge to warp faculties, to buy power, to bribe and threaten and seduce until he found himself in his coveted position as dean. And once entrenched he determined he would stay. He made no decisions whatsoever; at the first sign of disagreement he ended debate and restored the status quo ante. He clothed his stewardship in the name of collegiality, and I have wondered whether he ever knew that no peace will ever satisfy lovers of knowledge when you have crushed their ambition. A pacified faculty can only hate its pacifier. When this dean left the law school rang with praise and, just beneath, with gladness that he was gone.
There was a third dean, who perhaps made many errors in performance but whose effective tenure was devoted to making the school's stakeholders brave and dignified and good in a time when they were poor and frightened and when ugly forces were loose in the school to utilize their fears. This dean was hated by the few, who successfully prevailed upon university administration to fire him. When he left the people burst into tears in the halls and their minds wailed, "What can we do now? How can we go on without him?"
In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty professors and deans want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love. When a faculty member leaves, no matter what her talents and influence and genius, if she leaves unloved her career must be a failure to her and her leaving a cold horror. It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember the eventual ends of our careers and try so to teach and write and live that our departure brings no pleasure to our schools.
We have only one story. All scholarship, all teaching, all service, is built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.