A Message from the Dean
Dear Alumni and Friends:
On September 26, 1887, Cornell University’s first law students gathered in a small room on the fourth floor of Morrill Hall with Professors Burdick, Collin, and Hutchins for their inaugural lecture. In last Spring’s issue of Forum, Professor Kevin Clermont wrote about two Japanese students who were part of that first entering class.
Clermont reveals a recent discovery about another member of this class. George Washington Fields was the first African-American graduate of the Law School and in the first group of three black students at Cornell University. He is the only Cornell University graduate to have been born a slave. Fields would graduate in 1890 and carve a successful career as a lawyer in Hampton, Virginia
Clermont has written, edited, and published a book that includes a previously unpublished autobiography by Fields, in which Fields describes a harrowing tale of escape, struggle, determination, and ultimately success. It is a fascinating read and a unique piece of history for Cornell University. Fields’s life story is one for the history books and I encourage you to read it in its entirety.
Today, our student body represents a range of cultural, ethnic, racial, and economic groups, varies in age and experience, and hails from nearly every state in the United States and countries around the globe. In this year’s entering J.D. class of 2015, 40 percent of students identify as racial or ethnic minorities and 44 percent are women (in recent years, we have occasionally had more women than men). Our 1Ls come from thirty-three states and six countries. We also welcomed eighty-three LL.M. students from twenty-eight countries. Students have opportunities to join any number of organizations that offer networks of support throughout the Law School and the broader university.
Now, 125 years later, we are re-examining the curriculum that best prepares our students for long and successful careers. In this issue, you will learn about the many new classes and experiences available to our students, offerings that we have been quietly adding over the past decade.
The legal landscape is changing, and with it come numerous calls for change in legal education. This year we have seen this call elevated to the highest reaches of public office. President Obama opined that law school can be accomplished in two years. While that would cut the costs of legal education, it is inconsistent with the calls of others for more training in ethics and legal skills. The ultimate barometer is whether our graduates can get fulfilling jobs and lead lives of distinction. Repeatedly, we are matching or besting our peers when it comes to job placement, and that is a good indicator that we are doing something right.
As the curriculum evolves, some things remain the same. Over the past ten years, in my time as dean, I have had the pleasure of speaking with many of you about what you value most from your legal education. These conversations invariably come back to a central theme—the value of superb analytical thinking. This remains the steadfast and central goal of our curriculum. As you read about the new classes and experiences available to our students, the Law School faculty invariably maintains this central focus of lawyer as analytical thinker and problem solver.
In this issue, we also say “farewell” to two titans of Cornell Law School—Jim Henderson and Faust Rossi ‘60. Both long-time faculty members retired from teaching this year and have left remarkable legacies from which generations of Law School graduates have benefited.
Finally, many of you may already be aware that this year marks my final year as dean at Cornell Law School. I have immensely enjoyed my time in this position and look forward to the next chapter of leadership at the Law School. The search for the new dean is underway and should be announced by spring. After a sabbatical, I plan to return to the faculty, where I have taught since 1983.
In the meantime, we have much work to do. Here’s to a productive 2013-2014 school year!
Stewart J. Schwab
The Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law
p.s. I hope you enjoy this issue of the Cornell Law Forum. Our editor loves to hear from readers with suggestions and ideas to keep this magazine fresh and informative for alumni and friends of the Law School. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Room 119, Myron Taylor Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853.