Saturday, May 23, 2009

Frank: "So Far So Good"

Of the people reading this, no more than a handful will have heard of Frank McCoy. He was my faculty colleague who passed away last night. He had not been active in some years but until the last few months he reported daily to his small cubby of an office about ten feet from mine.

The passing of Frank (who in the last few years always said "so far so good" when asked how he was doing) made me think of what law schools are becoming without the likes of Frank. Frank was the purest intellectual I have known. I am not sure he wrote anything for publication but Frank was the type of guy who you could drop off at a library at 8 in the morning and pick up at 8 at night and (as long as he got lunch) there would be no complaints. Frank lived in the world of history, languages, and ideas. I am confident he never looked at an article to see if he was cited, bargained up a law review article, counted downloads, networked, or self-promoted. All of that would have gotten in the way of his intellectual curiosity.

On the other hand, Frank could talk knowledgeably about just about anything. You could mention a current topic and he might pipe up with, "Yes, well Napoleon tried that." As recently as a little over a year ago I could hear him with his Russian tutor. He had no plans to go to Russia as far as I know but probably wanted to read some things in the original language. A year before that we were chatting about a social/legal issue that had arisen in France. He said. "Yes, I wrote a poem about that last week." I asked to see it. The next day he produced a crumpled piece of notebook paper with the poem -- in French.

Frank's background was a mystery to me. Rumors are that he had a prior life in the CIA or one of its predecessors. I imagined him as George Smiley. I wondered what he was doing in China and Japan at critical times and mostly what he was doing in Madagascar. This was only revealed when he saw and old Zenith Transatlantic short wave radio in my office and mentioned that was like the one he used in Madagascar.

I have written before that some of the smartest, best educated, and helpful people on faculties I have been on do not write, send out reprints, fly to this conference or that, or do any of the other things that are expected of modern law professors. They are dying off, though, as fast as WW II veterans. I am not sure a law school betters itself by replacing them with someone who has excelled at the law professor's version of grade grubbing -- stacking up lines on a resume. In fact, I think law schools are poorer as a result of the passing of people like Frank.


Blogger Ani Onomous said...

Thanks for the kind recollection of your colleague. The reasons you celebrate him -- including his pure intellectual curiosity, (perhaps) not metered in terms of demonstrated output -- are in tension with the MoneyLaw approach, which as I understand it tends to accentuate the measurable and regard the life of the mind as something that is too romantic and too remotely related to the mission of adding value to the school and the students. Though it is not the place for a debate on these matters, your thoughts on Professor McCoy tend to heighten my impression that MoneyLaw captures only part of what we value in a faculty.

5/26/2009 12:44 PM  
Blogger BH said...

My condolences to you and your school - Prof. McCoy truly sounds like he was a treasure. We have several senior faculty and emeritus professors who he reminds me of and besides all you say, faculty such as these are also great sources of institutional memory and asking them about legal education in decades past always leads to some great stories.

5/28/2009 11:40 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Ani: I agree completely. In my almost three years as a moneylaw contributor I have changed my mind about a couple of things. One is the role of deans. In the past I have expected them to do things the parents of law professors should have done. The second is the ability to quantify output. On that we have move way too much in the direction of counting.

5/29/2009 9:24 AM  
Anonymous southern california lemon law lawyer said...

Sorry to hear about passing away of your colleague Mr.Frank McCoy.But from your article we came to know that he was a real genius. Hope you will follow his way of life as a tribute to him.

6/11/2009 5:41 AM  
Blogger Tom Cotter said...

I just read this post, and I am sorry to hear of the death of Professor McCoy. I always enjoyed his company when we were on the faculty together at UF. He was so well-read on so many topics and in so many languages, and yet humble and unassuming at the same time. I am glad to see him remembered in Jeff's post.

6/22/2009 1:35 PM  

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