Anne Lukingbeal Leaves Four-Decade Legacy of Care for Studentsby IAN MCGULLAM | PHOTOGRAPHY by SHERYL D. SINKOW and LINDSAY FRANCE
When you've been at Cornell for almost four decades, a lot of faces come and go. Alumni would frequently get in touch with Anne Lukingbeal with e-mails starting, "You probably don't remember me, but . . ."
"They were almost always wrong," says Lukingbeal.
Anne Lukingbeal's retirement as associate dean and dean of students on July 1 capped off a career at Cornell Law School that stretched back to 1978, when she was hired as dean of admissions. Over the past year, Cornell has feted her as a tireless administrator who had a hand in everything from student services to the LL.M. program to financial aid. Colleagues describe her as an invaluable resource for continuity.
"If you had a difficult situation with a student, or when we were talking about faculty advising, Dean Lukingbeal could remember when we did it in the past, and what the strengths and shortcomings were," says Eduardo M. Peñalver, who became the Allan R. Tessler Dean the year before Lukingbeal's retirement. "Coming in as a new dean, it was very comforting to know, even for that short time, that she was there."
Again and again, what comes up most in discussions with Lukingbeal's former colleagues and students was her commitment to forming personal relationships with students, and making sure that their three years at Cornell were good ones.
Lukingbeal had a standing weekly meeting with the president of the Cornell Law Student Association (CLSA), at which they would go over upcoming events, conflicts between student groups, and ways to improve the student experience. "She's all about, 'How can we help?' and 'What's the solution to the problem?'" current CLSA president Zellnor Myrie '16 says, even when it came to seemingly minor issues like changing the registrar's hours so that students could visit during lunch. Myrie particularly praises Lukingbeal's support for the Law School's affinity groups, including when members felt some pushback over the creation of a professional development boot camp for minority students. "She was just an ear for students who were feeling, 'Are we doing the right thing here?'" Myrie said. "She didn't call into question the business of the program."
Myrie's predecessor, Zoe Jones '15, notes how dedicated Lukingbeal was to advising students individually, even responding to e-mails from students in the middle of the night or when she was away at conferences. And, Jones says, many minority students developed especially strong relationships with her. "If people were having academic struggles, if people were having personal struggles, a lot of people would go to her, sometimes just to talk honestly and tell her what they'd been going through," Jones says.
Lilian Loh '13, an associate at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, was starting her second year at Cornell when her father was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. After being elected as CLSA president, she began meeting weekly with Lukingbeal, and talk of student groups inevitably segued into discussing their families. Loh remembers how much help Lukingbeal was when it came to laying out her options, whether it was taking time off or having Cornell grant her other accommodations. "She's a great listener," Loh says. "She's never pushy. She's never judgmental."
For Jacquie Duval '92, a partner at Ziff Legal Group, her most important connection with Lukingbeal was also personal: Lukingbeal was a crucial support when Duval had her first child while a student at Cornell. "I went to her and said, 'How's this going to work?'" Duval said. "And she said, 'It's going to work. Don't worry.' She helped me plan things around the birth of my child to make things work for me." Duval continued her relationship with Lukingbeal long after graduation, and, when she heard that Lukingbeal was retiring, ended up heading the creation of a fund to honor her. The Anne Lukingbeal Dean's Discretionary Fund for Student Life, Duval says, "is meant to support exactly those kinds of issues that Anne felt strongly about: the student life at the Law School."
According to alumni and faculty, Lukingbeal had a way of connecting people who might otherwise spend their Cornell years buried in case studies. Jones, who was active in the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), recalls how Lukingbeal would host parties at her home for the BLSA and other affinity groups early in the year so that students and professors could get a chance to meet each other. Professor Michelle Fongyee Whelan also appreciated Lukingbeal's proactive approach when she arrived at Cornell in 2007 and wasn't seeing many opportunities to meet her colleagues. Lukingbeal "didn't wait for somebody to come to her or say, 'Hi, I'm so-and-so,'" Whelan says. "She would be the one to go out and say, 'Hi, I'm Anne. Anything you need, stop by to say hi.'"
Lukingbeal's thirty-seven-year stay at Cornell has given her a sense of perspective about how law students have changed over the years. "I was there so long that there really were waves of generations," she says.
Lukingbeal graduated from law school at the University of California, Davis, in 1975. "I think we were basically hostile to authority, very independent. Nobody offered us much advice, but we certainly weren't seeking it either," Lukingbeal says. Times have changed, though, and Lukingbeal says she's noticed that recent classes of students have a different character. "Their social skills are by and large very high, and so they approach authority figures skillfully," Lukingbeal says. "They know what they want, and they're pretty good at quickly making it clear: 'I'm here in your office because this is what I need.'"
"I just found them wonderfully receptive to suggestions," Lukingbeal goes on. "If you can't say yes to exactly what they want, most of them are very amenable to hearing other ideas to get them something similar to what they came in the door wanting. So as an adviser you feel like you're being genuinely useful."
"You hear a lot about these helicopter parents," she says, chuckling. "If their parents were hovering, they were doing it from afar."
As the Law School's student body has changed through the years, so too have the methods by which students are taught. In large classes, Lukingbeal remembers, professors used to employ a harsh version of the Socratic method, in which question after probing question could end up feeling like an inquisition. "This was a nationwide phenomenon, not just at Cornell," she says. "And over the years, there's very little of that left. Most of the teachers, even teaching large Socratic classes, are projecting an air of someone who wants to help the students learn, and are not trying to terrify them."
"I'll bet that part of that has to do with the fact that many of the faculty are now much younger, and many of them went to law school and didn't like the harsh Socratic method and have vowed not to use it themselves," Lukingbeal adds.
The other major shift Lukingbeal has seen in law pedagogy at Cornell is in the growth of clinical courses, where students do legal work on behalf of real clients while earning credit. "Cornell has always offered a lot of its courses in small seminars," says Lukingbeal. "But when I came, I think there was one clinical professor, and maybe two or three clinical courses, and now I think we have at least eleven or twelve full-time clinical professors, and they're just teaching an amazing array of clinical courses."
"Oh, I would love to go to law school now," Lukingbeal says.
Even after becoming dean of students, Lukingbeal kept a hand in deciding the makeup of each new class by serving on the Law School admissions committee. Professor Michael Heise, who served with her on the committee, says, "She was able to analyze a paper file and letters of recommendation and personal statements, draw on her deep reservoir of historic experience, and project with uncanny accuracy how that individual applicant would navigate through three years of Cornell Law School." Heise recalls an incident when the committee was stuck on a choice among a number of strong applicants with essentially equivalent qualifications. "And then Anne picked out one file in particular," he said. "Before law school, the applicant had worked as a wedding consultant. And I remember Anne's identifying that fact and arguing with instant persuasion that any individual who can help brides, grooms, mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, through the wedding process with the level of detail that is incumbent upon a successful wedding planner, which this applicant was, certainly had the attention to detail that would likely predict law school success."
Not that she couldn't be hard nosed. Another frequent admissions committee member, Professor Emeritus Steven Shiffrin, recalls his "good-humored rivalry" with Lukingbeal. "Within the committee, she tended to have the highest of standards," Shiffrin says. "If there was a hint of something that did not appear to be consistent with something else said in the application, she was absolutely diligent about getting it chased down or wanting an explanation from the candidate." He went on, "Sometimes she would be the sole dissent. And she would say, 'Okay, I'm not going to block this, but I want it noted in the file that I warned you guys.'"
No one knows the breadth of Lukingbeal's reputation better than Markeisha Miner, who took over as the Law School's dean of students on July 1. "Anne is a legend, not just here at Cornell but across the country," Miner says. She recalls running into an acquaintance in April at the annual conference of the National Association for Law Placement, in which Lukingbeal has been heavily involved. Miner remembers that person saying, "You know, Anne Lukingbeal is retiring. Those are massive shoes to fill."
"They didn't know at the time that I was taking the position."
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