Message from the Dean to Alumni

Dean Ward Farnsworth sent the message below to alumni on June 8, 2020.

Dear alumni,

This is a challenging time for our country, our state, and our school.  First, of course, it is a time of intense social and political turmoil and soul-searching.  Last Monday, President Hartzell sent this note to the University community.  I followed it with a message to the Law School.  I’ll underscore that message now.  I was shocked by the death of George Floyd, as I expect you all were.  That event, the similar deaths of other Black men and women in encounters with police, and the explosion of outrage that has followed, have all raised hard and painful questions about race, justice, and the rule of law.  Our school needs to be wrestling with those questions in profound seriousness.  Our mission is to produce students who are prepared to join you in dealing with the problems that are shaking our world, so that 2030 and 2040 don’t look like 2020.

I also wish to take this opportunity to say it directly and personally:  our Law School rejects racism in every way, shape, and form – and indeed with special vehemence because of the school’s own history going back to Sweatt v. Painter.  We are committed to serving all of our students with equal respect regardless of race or background, and to preparing them to fight for the same out in the world.  Above our front doors is this charge: “that they may truly and impartially administer justice.”  Police brutality and other forms of racism are a burning failure in the true and impartial administration of justice, so let that charge above our doors be a constant provocation and reminder of the hard and urgent work to which we lawyers must be committed.

To help with that process, I’ve appointed a faculty committee to plan and coordinate the Law School’s responses to these recent events.  The chair of the committee is Professor Mechele Dickerson, one of the most distinguished members of our faculty.  The committee will be setting up discussions for our students of different aspects of the issues that have been gripping the nation – racial issues, policing issues, constitutional issues.  The programming will start this summer and continue in the fall.  We look forward to having the thoughts of our alumni about this process as it goes forward.

I mentioned the fall, and that brings me to another topic that deserves mention: the coronavirus and all that it has disrupted.  We are planning hard for the coming semester, and seeking to determine how much of the education the students need can be delivered in person. Of course we would all greatly prefer that approach to the extent that it can be done safely.  The answer to that question is not yet fully settled, but we are working on it every day. We’re taking direction from the university, and the university is consulting closely with public-health authorities.  All that’s certain is that giving the students the great experiences they deserve is going to take more work on everyone’s part than ever before.  I assure you that we will rise to the occasion with dedication and passion, no matter what.

Speaking of which, I’ve been very grateful to the many of you who have asked after our students and recent graduates.  In many cases those inquiries have turned into the kind of mentoring relationships that are the pride of this school.  Here’s what I know is also true:  as demanding a time as this has been for us here, it’s been even tougher – a lot tougher – for others, including many of you.  Some of you personally have been carrying the burden of injustice for a long time. Some of you are dealing with health issues in your families.  Many are dealing with economic challenges, some of them severe.  It’s at times like this that community matters most.  I’d deeply appreciate your taking a moment to think about your Law School classmates and to consider reaching out to them to learn how they are doing and to find out whether you can help one another.  And let me know, too, if the school can be helpful to you.

Ward Farnsworth