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The Online Version
of the Magazine
of Cornell Law School

 

Spring 2014

 

Volume 40, No 1

GettingtoYes-1
GettingtoYes-2

Stewart Schwab with students in the Gould Reading Room of the Cornell Law Library.

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Talking with Professor Charles Whitehead at the 2013 Clarke Business Law Institute Transactional Lawyering Competition.

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Chatting with a student during a Weekly Perk event in 2004.

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Meeting with a delegation from the Thai Bar and the U.S. Royal Thai Embassy in 2012.

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Teaching a class in 1984.

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At a Law School press conference with former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in 2007.

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Shaking hands with graduates at the 2013 Law School Convocation.

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With Professor Theodore Eisenberg in 1989.

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Posing with four of his children, a daughter in law, and HRH Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, LL.M. '02/S.D. '05 during a visit to Thailand in 2010.

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Schwab with participants in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for opening the East Wing (from left): Alex Harris, Barbara J. Holden-Smith, architect Ann Beha; Richard F. Robinson; and Kevin Clermont.

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With alumnus Jack Clarke, LL.B '52 in the Law Library Reading Room in 2009.

Table of Contents   Featured Article


Getting to Yes: A Retrospective on Stewart J. Schwab's Tenure as Dean

by KENNETH BERKOWITZ | PHOTOGRAPHY by FRANK DIMEO, ROBERT BARKER, LINDSAY FRANCE, JASON KOSKI, and PATRICIA REYNOLDS
Ten years ago, Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law, began his tenure with a set of ambitious, widely shared objectives: The Law School should increase the size of its faculty. It should broaden course offerings in business and international comparative law, expand partnerships with institutions around the world, and establish new on-campus initiatives to broaden its global impact.

 

The list kept going. The Law School should encourage more interdisciplinary studies and research across campus, taking greater advantage of its place within the university. It should create new clinics for students to broaden their experience outside the classroom, and use those real-world opportunities to reinforce its commitment to public service.

 

With its last major renovation two decades earlier, it should create space for additional classrooms, offices, centers, and student services, making sure to provide room to grow over the next twenty years. Along the way, it should continue to build its endowment, reinvigorate alumni participation, and foster a deeper sense of collegiality among faculty members.

Over the course of two five-year terms, he's done all that and more.

"Stewart Schwab has led the Law School with exceptional dedication, advancing valuable new programs, overseeing a significant expansion and renovation of the facilities, and hiring outstanding faculty to strengthen the school's future," says Cornell President David J. Skorton. "I'm grateful to Stewart for his leadership and his devotion to both the Law School and the university."

"By every objective measure, the Law School has done very, very well during Stewart's tenure," says Franci J. Blassberg '77, chair of the Law School Advisory Council. "But what is equally important is something less tangible-the feel of the school. Unlike many law schools, Cornell Law School is a happy place where both faculty and students are appreciated, supported, and encouraged. Stewart has a wonderfully collaborative nature, and he has managed to develop great working relationships with faculty and students, as well as with alumni. He is an excellent synthesizer, and by virtue of his unique combination of skills, he has been an incredible leader for the Law School."


BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER


When he took office in January 2004, the fifteenth dean in the history of Cornell Law wasn't sure what to expect. By then, he'd been on the faculty of the Law School for more than twenty years, teaching courses on labor and employment law, employment discrimination, contracts, business organizations, torts, and product liability. (While dean he would add courses on whistleblower law and ethics of business practice.)Before that, he'd clerked for Judge J. Dickson Phillips Jr. in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, and for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in the U.S. Supreme Court; before that, he'd been at the University of Michigan Law School, graduating magna cum laude and also receiving a Ph.D. in economics with a dissertation on "Stereotypes, Imperfect-Information Theories, and Statistical Discrimination in Labor Markets."


But he'd never been a dean, and couldn't know what it would feel like. "It's very different from being the faculty member I'd been since 1983," says Schwab, sitting in his corner office in Myron Taylor Hall, with views of the lake and the city. "There are lots of aspects to being a professor, but they generally boil down to teaching classes, writing articles, and engaging the intellectual life of the school. Being a dean is much more scheduled, and I wasn't fully aware of the relentlessness of the calendar.

"I remember one day early on," he continues, "when my wife asked what I'd done at work, and I said, 'I didn't do anything. I've been in meetings all day.' And it wasn't until later I realized that's actually what this job is all about: convening various groups, bringing people together, asking what we should do, and listening to the responses. Being a facilitator, which is very much the way I see this job."

That approach, and that sense of himself as a listener, rather than as a manager, has colored everything he's done over these past ten years. It's the reason faculty, staff, and students talk about their conversations with him, and why he consistently seeks out opportunities to listen.

"Knowing how much is demanded of him, it's impressive that he manages to set aside time every Wednesday to be with us," says Alex Harris '14, president of the Cornell Law Students Association, talking about the Weekly Perk, an hour of coffee and community that Schwab started early in his first term. "It shows his willingness to listen to students, and his enthusiasm for their ideas. When he's speaking with a student, you can tell he's interested in the whole person-not just what classes you're taking, but what your experience has really been like. That's much appreciated by everyone, and I think it shows a real student-first mindset."

As with many of the changes instituted over these ten years, the Weekly Perk began as someone else's idea, but needed the dean's backing to be put into action. That he provided all the support it needed, and took none of the credit, is at the heart of his management style.

"When you're the dean of a law school, a little bit of topdown goes a long way," says Schwab. "The best, most sustainable ideas usually come bubbling up from the folks who are going to execute them, whether they're faculty, staff, students, or alumni. As a university, we're in the idea business, so we should always have great ideas around-indeed, with more great ideas than we can put into place all at once, my central role is to figure out which ones come first.

"Part of the art of being a dean is knowing when to decide an issue, versus when to let it percolate," he continues. "If you step in too soon, there won't be enough time to create a consensus. If you wait too long, then nothing will get done. You have to find that balance, and for me, it comes from working with a group of faculty members who see themselves as equals. I don't think of myself as their boss, I think of myself as a colleague who's listening, letting ideas perk, and pushing them forward with a clear sense of direction."

CLOSING THE DEAL


From the beginning, Schwab started to work on everything at once, envisioning his tasks in terms of constituencies-administration, faculty, staff, students, and alumni-and prioritizing a job that his predecessors had wrestled with for years. "It was not long into his deanship when Stewart started talking about renovations," says Kevin Clermont, Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law and chair of the building committee. "The early talk involved some very different alternatives: building over the parking lot behind the Law School, building west of Hughes Hall, building underground. There were any number of ideas being batted about, with three sets of architects, and it was up to Stewart to address the solution."

In the decades since the previous renovation, members of the Law School had struggled to find additional space for a wide range of needs, from classrooms to common areas, and had consistently come up short. This time, with a design by Ann Beha Architects that incorporated advances in building construction, it would be possible to increase square footage without altering the Law School's existing footprint. That was the approach that appealed most to Schwab, and that's the design that's going to be built over the next several years.

"Stewart saw the need, addressed it, and came up with this plan for a three-phase building project, of which we are just finishing the first phase," says Clermont, talking about the new, formal entranceway to Myron Taylor Hall and the three below-ground classrooms that added 23,000 square feet of building space. "As time went on, he delegated much of the work, granting a surprising degree of autonomy, but the vision was Stewart's, and the existence of this new addition is owed entirely to that vision."

Early in his first term, following a strategic plan that had identified faculty renewal as a central part of the next dean's mission, Schwab went to work creating a framework to support that expansion, which has come to include such new administrative positions as vice dean, associate dean for international affairs, assistant dean for public service, and director of clinical programs. At the start of his deanship, there were forty-five permanent faculty; coming toward the end of his last semester, there are fifty-two, and taking attrition into account, Schwab has hired forty percent of them.

"When Stewart came in as dean, the need to expand and diversify the faculty was foremost on his agenda," says Barbara J. Holden- Smith, who became vice dean. "He met this challenge to create a dynamic, more diverse faculty. Because of the caliber of people we recruit to teach, who have any number of different places they could go, it's usually the dean who has to close the deal. Stewart can be very proud of the job he's done, and over these years of working together, I've garnered a great deal of respect for his leadership."

To make that growth possible, Schwab had to become an effective fundraiser. "That's the facet of the job I hadn't had much to do with previously, and I've found it to be easier and far more enjoyable than I'd feared," he says, smiling. "In interacting with alumni, I've always taken the approach that we're in this together, trying to make the school better together. You just look the other person in the eye and listen. It's not at all like arm twisting, and once I'd gotten used to the process, those conversations have actually been very easy. It's become fun."

It's worked, too. Over the past ten years of shaking hands around the country and around the world, the dean has helped to raise nearly one hundred million dollars and to double annual fund giving. "We're on the cusp of finishing what will be by any measure the most successful fundraising campaign in the history of the Law School," says Peter Cronin, associate dean for alumni affairs and development. "That's really remarkable, and I think the reason Stewart has been so successful is that he's completely lacking in pretense. The alumni can see that he's genuine, that he's unequivocally himself, and that he's striving to do everything he can to ensure the school's success. At every juncture, he's emphasized a bright future for the school-that's the message he's carried to the alumni, and that's why they've responded. He has worked very hard and been himself, and I honestly don't think his success is any more complicated than that."


"The dean of a major law school has something of an exalted status, but one of the terrific things about Dean Schwab is that he's completely approachable," says Ladd Hirsch '83, a member of the alumni association's executive board. "It would hardly be surprising if he was something other than humble, but he's not, which may come from the fact that he has eight children, something bound to keep any parent humble. Stewart eagerly speaks with a first-year J.D. with the same level of enthusiasm that he engages with a thirty-year alum. That's a real tribute to his character."


DEFINING THE MISSION

With those successes, more followed. The Law School's focus on international law, which had broadened with the establishment, by Jack G. Clarke, LL.B. '52, of the Clarke Center for International and Comparative Legal Studies in 2001 and the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture in 2002, became even stronger with the addition of the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa, founded shortly after the arrival of Chantal Thomas from Cairo.

"Analysis of the region has been so completely dominated by religion, Israeli-Palestinian geopolitics, or both, and I wanted that to change," says Thomas, professor of law and director of the Clarke Initiative. "A lot of what goes on in the Middle East and North Africa is informed by universal problems of development in poor countries, and as a law and development scholar before I went to Egypt, I immediately recognized that. So I talked to Stewart about creating this space for research, scholarship, and dialogue, and he was incredibly supportive. He really believes in encouraging faculty members to pursue their passion-which is also a very efficient way of governing and getting the best out of the people around you. I can't say enough about how wonderful he's been this whole time."


As director of the Clarke Program in East Asian Law and Culture, Annelise Riles has had a similar experience in proposing new ideas. "This program was founded in 2002, but it has grown tremendously during the course of Stewart's deanship, so much so that we went from not having any program in Asian law to being without a doubt one of the top programs in the country," she says. "With Stewart's involvement, we're redefining the role of a Law School program into something that's much, much broader than anyone would have imagined ten years ago."


After reaching its tenth anniversary, the Program launched its most ambitious project to date: Meridian 180. Taking shape as part of the international response to Japan's Tohuku earthquake and financial crisis, the project has evolved into a new paradigm for developing solutions to transnational challenges, providing real-time translations in Chinese, Japanese, and English, and building a forum for interdisciplinary conversations around the Pacific Rim.


"At the time, everyone was focusing on the short-term emergencies," says Riles. "But I thought it was also a symptom of much broader problems that have plagued the region for a long time. So Stewart, Jack, and I began to ask ourselves, 'What's the role of a global law school in this crisis? What's missing from the picture?' The answer we came up with was Meridian 180, which fits Stewart's idea that the Law School has a commitment that goes far beyond Ithaca, and that our connections to the world are a very important part of who we are and what we do. Stewart has been a champion of Cornell's land-grant mission to the world, so when we do global studies, it's not about training judges to spread American rule of law. It's about building partnerships to understand the world in a richer way."


With the 2008 launch of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, cofounded by Kim Azzarelli '97 and Sital Kalantry, Cornell expanded its international focus again, working closely with judges, lawyers, governmental organizations, and NGOs to improve women's access to justice around the world. In the years since, accepting requests from across the globe, the center has studied sexual violence in Zambia, reported on acid attacks in Cambodia and India, trained lawyers working on human trafficking in Liberia, and researched the barriers faced in New York courts by survivors of domestic abuse.


"The center has created a great sense of community, the first of its kind, and had a significant impact," says Azzarelli, a member of the Law School Advisory Council. "Cornell Law may be small in size, but it's global in outlook, and having the center here means that it's not just going to be another program. Stewart has always taken good care of it, and even the little things he's done have had big rippling effects, which has to do with the sincerity with which he approaches his job. He's traveled with us, been to every conference, and become part of the judges' network. We have a lot of women, but we always say it's great to have a few good men, too. Stewart is definitely one."


DEMONSTRATING STRENGTH


As an expert in business and employment law, and cognizant of the fact that a large percentage of graduates begin their careers at one of this country's 250 largest law firms, Dean Schwab had for years hoped to expand course offerings in corporate law. With help from Clarke, who committed the lead $5 million to the project, and alumni who contributed almost $8 million more, he received the support he needed to found the Jack G. Clarke Institute for the Study and Practice of Business Law (BLI).


"Of all Dean Schwab's key accomplishments as a fundraiser, I think he's most proud of the evolution of the Clarke Business Law Institute, which started from square one," says Cronin. "Stewart understood that in order for the Law School to continue demonstrating the strength it's known for, we needed to have an aggregate of tenured faculty and resources to promote scholarship and teaching across the broad array of transactional law matters."


After mapping out a vision of the BLI with members of the advisory council, Schwab began assembling the necessary pieces one at a time, hiring faculty in financial regulation, securities law, intellectual property, and international economic law over the course of four years; collaborating to create a three-year joint J.D./M.B.A. program with the Johnson Graduate School of Management; establishing a transactional lawyering competition, the first of its kind in the world; hosting a series of conferences and symposia; and recruiting Raymond J. Minella '74 as executive director.


"The vast majority of Cornell Law graduates wind up practicing corporate law," says Minella. "So we've significantly expanded the curriculum to deal with business law topics, with about two-thirds of the new courses coming in the last few years. Our students are now able to graduate with a much deeper background in business law, and a lot of people are taking advantage of the richer course offerings. That's been Stewart's vision from the start, to focus on business law in a way that other schools don't. And obviously, I think it's the right thing to do."


Over the same period, Schwab created an office of public service, reaffirming the Law School's long-standing commitment to support students and alumni pursuing careers in government, small firm, and public interest law. "First and foremost, Stewart is the reason I have this job," says Karen Comstock, who became assistant dean for public service during Schwab's first year in office. "He saw this as an important priority, and he's been nothing but supportive ever since, talking to alumni about what we do, and articulating his vision of the importance of public service. That support has gone a long way."

With the new position, the Law School has been providing one-on-one career counseling, presenting workshops on job-search strategies, administering summer and post-graduate fellowships, fostering networks between students and alumni, coordinating pro bono opportunities, organizing symposia on careers in public interest law, and formally recognizing Cornellians for their work in public service. "Putting a spotlight on this area has helped us raise the profile of public service at Cornell," says Comstock. "There's been a great synergy between alumni and current students, and the stronger our program gets, the more credibility it has. From there it just keeps building and Stewart's willingness to put resources behind our program has made all the difference."


The Law School has also seen an expansion in its clinical programs, with new permanent clinics in labor law, LGBT law, and securities law, as well as clinics that have arisen in juvenile justice, wrongful convictions, and family law. "It's unquestionably true that we have a wider, more diverse range of clinical offerings than we had when Stewart became dean, and that it's providing a more robust, vital set of experiences for our students," says John H. Blume, professor of law, who became the first director of the Clinical, Advocacy, and Skills Programs. "There are some deans who are inclined to say no. Stewart is a dean who's inclined to say yes, and I think that's a very good thing. He's responsive to the things that faculty members need, and if you can make a plausible argument as to why something would be good for the school, then he's inclined to agree, which is part of the reason why he has presided over an era of growth."

 

PLOTTING THE COURSE


Most remarkable of all, he's presided over that growth during an economic downturn that's threatened institutions all over the country, and he's kept Cornell Law in the black through his entire tenure. "It's been a period of great challenge," says Peter W. Martin, the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law, Emeritus, who served as dean from 1980-1988, when the Law School secured its own fiscal autonomy. "Throughout this difficult period, Stewart has taken the long view, which is built into the position of being dean and the responsibilities that go with it. As I've watched him, he's been very strong in helping the school plot a course that looks beyond the immediate next year and into a future that will go on and on and on. Stewart has done a brilliant job of not just safeguarding the interests of the Law School, but helping the Law School continue to move forward."


With the onset of the financial crisis, Schwab focused much of his attention on the budget, attending regular meetings with other deans and creating the position of vice dean to coordinate the internal administration of the Law School. "Dean Schwab deserves a significant share of the credit for helping steer Cornell Law through the financial crisis that negatively impacted all law schools," says Hirsch. "He's been a steady hand, expressing the right amount of concern without overreacting, and positioning the Law School to be in a stronger place. He's been tremendously transformative, everything you could want in a dean- inspired, gracious, polished, well respected and undaunted by challenges-it's going to be difficult to fill his shoes."


With his tenure coming to a close, Schwab looks around his office, pointing out family pictures-it's a running joke that the Schwabs have taken greater advantage of the university's tuition benefits than anyone else in history- and pausing at photos of his two mentors, Judge Phillips and Justice O'Connor. From Phillips, he came to "see the best in people"; working alongside O'Connor, he "observed her grace under pressure firsthand, though I've had neither her grace nor nearly her pressure. She was a role model, always looking ahead rather than worrying about the past, and I learned a lot from her."


Has the deanship changed him? Schwab doesn't think so, continuing to see himself as "basically the same: optimistic, happy in most situations." When he smiles, which is often, it's easy to believe, and he intends to use these next few months working on the second phase of building construction, sketching his vision of a partnership with Cornell NYC Tech, and continuing to plan for the Law School's future.


Once he steps down, he'll begin a sabbatical that will take him to some of the Law School's exchange partners around the world, then come back home to rejoin the faculty in the fall of 2015. "We've had some accomplishments, and it's been a job with some satisfactions," says Schwab, gathering up some papers before going home. "It's not a question of tasks finished or mission accomplished. It's more a matter of stewarding ten years in the life of a 120-year-old institution before handing it to the next person. I'd like to think we've put the Law School in a better place than we were ten years ago, and that we'll be in an even better place in another ten years."


"Dean Schwab has had an enormously positive impact on the Law School, getting acknowledgement for Cornell as one of the great law schools in the country," says Allan R. Tessler, LL.B. '63, who first endowed the deanship in 1999. "I'm proud that he's been the dean, and at this point, I don't think in terms of his legacy but of the continuity of his achievements at the Law School. I consider Stewart a good friend and a sometime tennis opponent, and I look forward to his continued participation on the faculty."


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