Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"Another Sign That Iowa Is On A Downward Trend"

The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

John W. Gardner (1912-2002)


My father is a native of Pella, Iowa, and he keeps up with all things related to the flagship educational institution of his native state, the University Of Iowa—and this is so despite the fact that he obtained his B.A. at Yale University and his J.D. at the University Of Chicago.

There have been so many scandals recently at the University Of Iowa that it has become impossible for my father to keep up with them.

My weblog entry two days ago poking fun at one of the University’s recent press releases—a press release so acutely embarrassing that I marvel that persons have not been fired—has attracted an unusually large number of readers.

One reader visited my weblog via a “Marcella David” search—Marcella David, one of the persons mentioned in the cringe-inducing press release, is on the University Of Iowa Law School faculty—and this particular reader brought to my attention a website that discusses, quite candidly, the University Of Iowa Law School, unmistakably in as much of a long-term “downward trend” as the University itself.

An entry on that website, from June 17, 2009, particularly caught my eye, and I reproduce it here in full.

(I have corrected a few spelling errors, but I have not corrected errors in grammar or punctuation or usage.)


There is no such thing as "international law." I'll say it again, there is no such thing as "international law." This so-called area of academic focus is nothing but a smoke and mirrors (shock and awe?) marketing tool designed to rope in students who think they'll be using their law degrees to save people in Darfur.

With regard to the law school at Iowa, the school tries to market itself as a law school with an "international focus," whatever that means, but there is positively no mentoring or guidance provided for those wanting to pursue real, viable avenues of legal practice where dealing with cross-border legal issues/interaction (say, M&A work, FDI, intellectual property rights, international trade) is a prime component.

There was a so-called information meeting with faculty members who have an "international" orientation, and the head of the "international program" told students, flat-out, that "there are firms out there that engage in international work, but you won't get those jobs. (Iowa students, regardless of how well they may do, being told to forget about employment opportunities). But you can still be involved in international work on your own."

Here’s a tip for you, instead of telling your students that they aren’t competitive for the jobs they want, how about getting off your rear-end and making the necessary connections with the firms out there and touting your students so that they have viable career opportunities. The faculty members who have a so-called "international" orientation have no interest in mentoring or guiding those students who want to pursue legal careers with such a focus. They either tell students that they should forget about pursuing such employment options (after all, they won’t get those jobs, anyway), or they give students the brush-off (while thinking that such students are too stupid to see that they’re being rebuffed) because they have more important things to do (like directing their efforts toward moving up the law school food chain to obtain a teaching position at a better school) than to spend time with someone who didn't get into Harvard.

As far as faculty members mentioned, here's a current update:

Patricia N. Acton - Iowa graduate; not a real professor - is a clinical professor; virtually no experience outside of the state.

John Allen - not a real professor - is a clinical professor; no discernable experience dealing with real world cross-border legal practice/issues.

David C. Baldus - very smart, but very close to retirement.

Willard L. Boyd - near retirement age, and virtually no discernible experience dealing with real world cross-border legal practice/issues or any having to do with real world legal practice.

Steven J. Burton - very smart, has a bit of an odd teaching style; very knowledgeable about international arbitration/mediation.

William G. Buss -one of the, if not the, smartest faculty members at Iowa. Very sharp mind, and very empathetic towards intelligent motivated students. Knows his stuff inside and out. Also near retirement.

Jonathan Carlson - smart guy, not too much real world experience and not too interested in dealing with students.

Enrique R. Carrasco - smart, good teacher. actually has some real world experience with cross-border legal practice/issues.

Marcella David - is a University/Law School administrator. Focuses on diversity issues. Enough said.

Alexander Domrin - smart, good teacher. knows his stuff. should be on the faculty rather than just an adjunct.

Mark Janis - very smart, very good teacher. knows his stuff inside and out. But, is leaving Iowa to go to Indiana. His departure is another sign that Iowa is on a downward trend.

Nicholas Johnson -smart, knows his stuff, but his stuff is outdated by decades. He is not a real professor/faculty member - he is a lecturer/adjunct. Hasn't done much of anything of professional or academic note in almost forty years. Expects students to treat him like he's a legal god, but hasn't done anything in decades to justify this expectation; infantile, vindictive towards students/people who fail to recognize his greatness; has a history -dating back to his last real job in 1973 - of stabbing people in the back.

John C. Reitz - see above note about the head of the "international program" at Iowa.

Christopher Rossi - smart, knows his stuff. Should be a full faculty member instead of some of those do-nothing adjuncts.

Wendie Schneider - no longer there. The word is that she decided not to stay at Iowa and left after one year because she found the environment somewhat hostile.

Mark Sidel - smart, accomplished, and wants nothing whatsoever to do with students in any way, shape or form. He went to Princeton, Yale and Columbia and you didn't. Won't even talk to you about anything having anything to do with anything. Doesn't want to have anything to do with tuition paying students. Only interested in his own career advancement.

Alexander Somek - serious communication difficulties. out there.

Lea VanderVelde - hostile toward students and has been said to be in some other space.

Burns H. Weston - gone; retired.

Adrien Katherine Wing - her entire focus is on diversity topics; enough said.

Tung Yin - smart, empathetic teacher. One of the few people at Iowa who is genuinely interested in speaking with and advising students. But, is leaving Iowa to go to Lewis & Clark, I believe. His departure is another sign that Iowa is on a downward trend.


This former Iowa Law School student hit the nail on the head: the University Of Iowa Law School is a big zero in the field of international law.

Anyone outside the State Of Iowa would find it bizarre that the University Of Iowa Law School pretends that it possesses some sort of stature in the field of international law. The very notion is absurd on its face.

Iowa is not a national law school, let alone an international law school. Iowa law graduates do not receive employment offers from elite national law firms, let alone elite international law firms. Iowa does not enjoy a law faculty of national standing, let alone a faculty of international standing.

Iowa’s is a local law school—nothing more and nothing less.

It is, consequently, a complete waste of Iowa taxpayer money for the State Of Iowa to fund, at the state’s only public law school, legal programs geared toward international law. It is difficult to imagine anything more inherently inefficient—if not outright ridiculous.

The situation needs to be rectified.

The Iowa Board Of Regents, if were doing its job, would long ago have required Iowa’s law school to eliminate its “international” pretensions. However, the State Of Iowa has a very bad Board Of Regents, which has not been minding the store for years.

The Iowa legislature needs to step in and eliminate funding for the law school’s “international” projects. Such “international” projects enjoy no prestige beyond the borders of Johnson County, Iowa; they serve only to massage the egos of Iowa’s very undistinguished law faculty.

Cleaning up Iowa’s law school will require the assertion of some external power. It certainly will not and cannot be done in-house.

Iowa’s law school hired a new Dean sometime in the last year or so—and the choice, a head-shaking one, aroused much comment at the time, none of it positive. Iowa selected a person of such staggering lack of distinction that my father asked, sarcastically, “Was Donald Duck unavailable?”

In an ideal world, the University Of Iowa central administration would assert its authority, and install adequate persons in leadership positions at Iowa’s law school—and require that the new law school leadership upgrade considerably the law school’s faculty, which is in need of a major overhaul.

However, that will not happen, either, as the University Of Iowa itself urgently is in need of new leadership. Iowa’s current President, the hapless Sally Mason, who should never have been hired, has shown herself utterly incapable of providing the University Of Iowa with the strong and disciplined leadership it so vitally needs.

The “downward trends”, both at the law school and at the university itself, are destined to continue, probably for decades to come.

And my father mourns.

As do many of his long-time friends with roots in Iowa.

Over the years, most of my father’s friends with Iowa roots have expressed their unhappiness over the University’s nonstop downward slide by ending annual contributions to The University Of Iowa Foundation.

Yesterday morning, my father, who stopped sending checks to the University Of Iowa once Hunter Rawlings, a former President, departed for Cornell back in the 1990s, did something significant: he altered one of his estate documents. Via codicil, my father eliminated the provision in his will that called for a not inconsiderable sum of money to be left to the University Of Iowa upon his death.

I wonder how many other persons have done so over the years. I suspect the number is a substantial one.

My father’s estate attorney, undoubtedly the most prominent wills-and-estates attorney in the State Of Minnesota, remarked to my father yesterday morning that he had had several clients, over the last ten to fifteen years, drop the University Of Iowa from testamentary plans.

It is possible that I may tell the full story of my father’s change of heart sometime soon.

1 comment:

  1. It's an informative post. I very much look forward to read this post. The only way to succeed in law school and its unique Socratic method of teaching is to experience it – to invest countless hours with professors in a classroom environment.

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