Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Comfortably metrotextual

I wrote the following column for "Bar Briefs," the monthly newspaper of the Louisville Bar Association. In the interest of sharing my thoughts about legal education at the University of Louisville with a broader audience, I thought I'd post the column here at MoneyLaw.

The University of Louisville's mission statement directs this university to "be a premier, nationally recognized metropolitan research university with a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences and to the intellectual, cultural, and economic development of our diverse communities and citizens." No word in this sequence has proved more controversial than metropolitan. After all, what would be lost if our university deleted the word metropolitan and strove simply to be "a premier, nationally recognized research university"?

As dean of the University of Louisville's Brandeis School of Law, I welcome and embrace our school's designation as a metropolitan research university. We strive to be a metropolitan law school. We are, to coin a phrase, comfortably metrotextual.

Louisville Law
Received wisdom in Kentucky treats the word metropolitan as a means of impairing rather than inspiring the University of Louisville. Our commonwealth, after all, supports at least one other nationally recognized research university. A related line of conventional thought assigns American universities to a hierarchy based roughly on nomenclature. Ideally, so this thinking goes, a university should be named for a wealthy individual (Leland Stanford, Jr., or Cornelius Vanderbilt), or perhaps the largest available piece of real estate. Virginia, Michigan, or Texas will do.

In many cases, and this is one of them, received wisdom isn't truly wise. Some of the finest universities in our country are named for cities: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and, yes, Louisville. Many of the most prestigious universities outside our country are named for their cities: Oxford, Cambridge, Toronto, Salamanca, Bologna, Heidelberg. Several colleges within our metropolitan university -- including the Law School -- have added the names of individuals who were giants in the earth in their days, mighty men of old and of renown. As much pride as the University of Louisville justifiably takes in Justice Louis D. Brandeis, Raymond A. Kent, and J.B. Speed, I draw ample motivation from the name that unites our law school and our university with our city: Louisville.

Red roseShakespeare's Juliet rightfully asked, "What's in a name?" The University of Louisville proudly bears the name of the city and the broader metropolitan community that sustains it. The central problems of our time are the problems of cities, of urban conglomerations so potent as to transcend earlier generations' conception of the "metropolis." To paraphrase the popular singer-songwriter, Natalie Merchant, "A woman of beauty / A woman of pain / In France or Jakarta" faces frustrations and harbors dreams every bit as much as "A woman of color / With debts to be paid / In Trenton or Detroit." At home or abroad, "Her shadow's the same."

By the same token, the world's metropolitan research universities hold the key to a brighter future for ourselves and our posterity. In his epochal book, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Richard Florida quotes what he calls an "old German adage": Stadtluft macht frei. City air makes you free. Yes, today's cities generate many of the problems that confront contemporary societies. Led by their universities and their most engaged citizens, those cities offer hope. They offer solutions.

Here at the University of Louisville, in the heart of the city of Louisville, our Law School is comfortably metrotextual. We have ambitiously set forth a metropolitan agenda.

Louisville skyline
What does it mean to be a metropolitan law school? I believe that these are the irreducible elements:
  1. Access. A metropolitan law school, especially if it contributes to the grander mission of a metropolitan university, stands as a beacon of hope and opportunity. Our Law School proudly serves first generations and provides second chances. It does so by undertaking -- and fulfilling -- the strongest possible commitment to diversity and financial aid. The University of Louisville provides one of the best bargains in American legal education. It is the solemn mission of the dean to ensure that our Law School extends this tradition for the benefit of current and future generations.

  2. Excellence. In order to succeed in accomplishing its access mission, a metropolitan law school must strive for excellence. Lowered academic standards would destroy the entire notion of access, for a university that has retreated from its commitment to excellence would make, in the words of Justice John Marshall Harlan the elder, a splendid but worthless bauble of educational opportunity. Our Law School strives for nothing short of superlative instruction, counseling, and research.

  3. Service. A metropolitan law school is a leading citizen of the community that sustains it. The University of Louisville has been a pioneer in integrating public service into the law school curriculum. For nearly two decades, our law students have fulfilled a rigorous public service requirement as a condition of graduation. With the support of our university, our alumni and alumnae, and Louisville's legal community at large, the Law School hopes very soon to open a new University of Louisville Law Clinic. We hope that our Law Clinic, in addition to providing hands-on training that will enable our graduates to perform at their very best upon their entry into the legal profession, will deliver much needed services to the neediest and least served segments of our community. I can think of no greater development in the living memory of legal education at the University of Louisville.
MinervaAt roughly 460 feet above sea level, the University of Louisville sits at the lowest elevation of any public university in Kentucky. We nevertheless stand tall. By transforming its mission as a metropolitan research university into a profound educational mandate, the Law School hopes to help its university, the legal profession, and Louisville at large become a true beacon of hope -- a veritable city on a hill.

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