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The Online Version
of the Magazine
of Cornell Law School

 

Fall 2014

 

Volume 40, No 2

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Eduardo Moises Peñalver, Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law

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Dean Peñalver Forum_3
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A Peñalver family photo shows (from left front) Eduardo, Andre, mother Meg, Laura, and Mario. Standing are father Ovidio (left) and brother Josiah.

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With Justice John Paul Stevens

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With Hon. Guido Calabresi and Danielle Spinelli.

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Eduardo and his wife Sital Kalantry

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Table of Contents Featured Article


Parsing Eduardo Peñalver: Why He's the Right Person to Lead the Law School in an Era of Change

by LINDA BRANDT MYERS | PHOTOGRAPHY by ROBERT BARKER, LINDSAY FRANCE, JASON KOSKI, and ANTHONY LEE
He clerked for appellate court and Supreme Court justices and has been a professor at Cornell, University of Chicago, and Fordham law schools.


He built his scholarly reputation as a leading light in the field of property law while at Cornell Law School (2006-2012), where he won a Provost's Award for his research.


But it's also important to know that Eduardo Moises Peñalver, the Law School's new Allan R. Tessler Dean: can pilot a plane, swam with whales in Mystic Aquarium, keeps chickens, and cares about sharks.

Come again?

It's all true. He is so interested in sharks, in fact, that a few years ago he sat calmly in a cage floating in the shark-infested waters off False Bay, near Capetown, with Law School professor Greg Alexander, hoping to catch a glimpse of a Great White shark. "He told me we had to do this because this was the only place in the world where we would get to see the Great Whites jump straight out of the water," says Alexander. The two, both avid scuba divers, were in South Africa to coteach a course at Stellenbosch University when they took the plunge on a free weekend.


Okay, the shark cage story probably doesn't shed much light on the kind of dean he will be. But it does reveal his curiosity and daring, and perhaps even a little about the innovative ways in which he views the world.

All those qualities are essential to being a great dean, says Hon. Guido Calabresi, who served as dean of Yale Law School from 1985 to 1994 before becoming judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where the young Peñalver clerked for him in 1999-2000.

"As a dean you not only must be a scholar and teacher so that faculty and students respect you," asserts Calabresi, "but you also must be able to deal with the world and be imaginative in the way you look at the world."

Peñalver can do all that, and more, he says. "He is a remarkable scholar" who looks at property law in exciting new ways. When he presented some of his ideas at a conference in Italy a few years ago, he drew "wows" from his audience, Calabresi recalls.


"He also has generosity and empathy," the judge asserts-traits that he says are rare in a scholar but essential in a dean, who must be responsive to problems and concerns of many others.

And most important, "Eduardo is a person who is interested in people." As he seeks support for the school he leads, a dean must be able to listen to people, particularly alumni, and treat their views seriously, says Calabresi.

"Guido has been a wonderful mentor," says Peñalver. "I look up to him on a personal and professional level."

Another influence is U.S. Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, for whom he clerked in 2000-2001. "Justice Stevens set an amazing example through his kindness and generosity to all," he says. "It's a standard I continue to turn to in my professional life."

CAUTION! CHALLENGES AHEAD

Granted there are no sharks anywhere near Myron Taylor Hall, unless you count metaphorical ones such as intensifying change in the external legal environment. Metaphors aside, the change is real. Since the economic meltdown of a few years ago, law firms in general have continued to hire fewer law school graduates, and there are still fewer applications to law schools overall than before the crisis.

As a top-tier law school, Cornell Law has managed to weather much of the fallout from the crisis. Applications to the school and job placement are now at the same high levels they were before the markets imploded. But there is still plenty for a dean to worry about.

Former dean Stewart J. Schwab predicts: "Among top law schools like Cornell's there will be even more intense competition for the best faculty and students, and pressure to continue providing a world-class law education without slashing budgets or increasing tuition significantly."

Since 80 percent of the school's budget comes from tuition, there will likely be an even greater emphasis on fundraising, Schwab says.

How does Peñalver see the challenges ahead?

"Stewart has done a phenomenal job of leading the school through a difficult period for law schools generally and leaving it on an extremely sound footing. We rank ninth in the nation in the percentage of graduates going to National Law Journal 250 firms."


"We are seeing strong demand for our graduates," he notes. "As dean I'll keep an eye on the job market as it evolves and be sure that we continue to prepare our students well for it." One hint of change: "An alum who is general counsel of a technology company told me recently that his firm is outsourcing some of its patent work to law offices in India," Peñalver says. "That kind of change has the potential to transform the way legal services are provided in the United States, which ultimately feeds back into how law schools are preparing their students."

A DEAN'S ROLE

"Cornell Law School has a tradition of strong faculty governance," says Peñalver, who intends to adhere to that model.


"Our faculty is very engaged in the operations of the school. A dean can be a source of ideas but it's not a role in which you impose solutions," he explains. "The dean acts more like a facilitator for conversations about the direction in which things are headed and is a bridge between the Law School and the alumni community, the legal employment market, and the university," he says.


"The dean's role is to draw on the information he gets from those various internal and external constituencies and use that to help set the agenda for a conversation about the direction the Law School is headed," Peñalver elaborates. "He can facilitate that conversation, but the real governance of the Law School happens primarily through the faculty."


He cites the advice of Calabresi, who once told him that a dean must understand he's like a butler in a Great House. "His role is facilitating and serving-being there to remove obstacles and trying to create an institution that is helping faculty, students, and alumni achieve the goals they set by creating a mechanism to allow that to happen," Peñalver says. "Picture a Downton Abbey without the scheming."

 

CHOOSING A DEAN: WHAT'S INVOLVED

John Siliciano, senior vice provost for academic affairs, chaired the search committee for the new dean. "We tried to put together a committee that would be representative of the Law School," says Siliciano, a Law School faculty member and past associate, vice, and interim dean at the school. Committee members included faculty, alumni, and senior administrators. Student leaders were among those who interviewed the finalists, he says.


The committee asked Cornell Law School faculty members and alumni across the country to nominate the most promising candidates. They then did rigorous "due diligence" to narrow that list from around 100 to about 12, who were invited to be interviewed in New York City. That process yielded the top three, who each made three visits to campus to present on their candidacies. "Eduardo was a promising candidate from the start," says Siliciano. "He had an extraordinary résumé, terrific academic credentials, and he gave an impressive job talk. It was clear he had spent a lot of time thinking about the challenges the Law School faced.


"Throughout his visits, he was engaged with the faculty and had thoughtful, reflective conversations with them," Siliciano says. "Our feedback showed he was highly valued and respected by them and had their strong support."


Provost Kent Fuchs, who made the final decision, says he too was impressed by the candidate's tremendous support from the faculty. His formal announcement also mentioned Peñalver's "extraordinary academic pedigree, deep love for Cornell, personal warmth, and engaging vision."


KUDOS AND COMMENTS

Law professor Michael Dorf, who sat on the search committee, says: "When you have a successful institution in a challenging environment, you want someone who can build on the strengths and address the challenges. Insiders are better positioned to build on strengths, while outsiders are better positioned to address challenges. Because of his experience, Eduardo can do both."


(Peñalver's outsider credentials include stints at Fordham and the University of Chicago law schools and visiting appointments at Harvard and Yale law schools.)


"Eduardo is well respected and well regarded by virtually every major constituency - faculty, students, staff, alumni, and the wider world," Dorf adds. "He connects extremely well with all those groups and has a real love for the institution - the Law School and Cornell. He feels at home here."


Most impressive, Dorf says, is "he's calm in almost any situation but also highly energetic. He gets a lot done, but when you're talking with him you never have the sense he's rushing you."


Law alumna Franci Blassberg '77, chair of the school's advisory council and Cornell trustee emerita, also sat on the search committee and says, "There is palpable excitement about Eduardo as dean, and I'm thrilled to be teaching at the Law School this fall during his inaugural semester." (Her course is Private Equity Playbook.)


She adds, "He understands the challenges facing law schools today. He is outgoing and amazingly personable, and he connects well with students and younger alumni as well as with faculty." She is particularly excited about his ability to work with the broader Cornell community, which she hopes will lead to a greater presence for the Law School in New York City.


A SCHOLAR WHO STANDS OUT


From the start Peñalver began to carve out a name for himself in the field of property law, says Alexander. "Now he's an intellectual star in his field."


"His innovation has been to apply [to property law study] some of the insights from virtue ethics, which is based on the moral philosophy of Aristotle," explains Alexander, who collaborated with Peñalver on An Introduction to Property Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2011).


"Eduardo's work doesn't reject individual preference satisfaction, the standard law, and economics utilitarian approach," he notes. "But it says that's not the only important goal. There are others, such as liberty, community, autonomy, equality, and more."


"He will bring the same sort of imaginative vision to the deanship as he brings to his scholarship," Alexander predicts.


In Peñalver's book Property Outlaws: How Squatters, Pirates, and Protesters Improve the Law of Ownership (Yale University Press, 2010), he and coauthor Sonia Katyal of Fordham University School of Law look at the behavior of trespassers, squatters, and people who copy and sell videos of popular movies, among others. They go on to show that such disobedience can actually bring about improvements in legal regulations. The book won praise from Jonathan Zittrain, professor of law at Harvard, who wrote that it "offers a sparkling account of the ways in which lawbreaking can both strengthen and reshape the law."


TEACHING WHAT MATTERS MOST


Jim Bishop '12, now an associate with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Seattle, took Peñalver's Property Law Clinic as a law student and calls him "a remarkable professor."


The live case Bishop and classmates worked on involved a community of about twenty small landowners whose houses were on the tip of a tiny peninsula on Cayuga Lake, Bishop relates. The only way to get on and off the peninsula was via a narrow strip of land crossed by a railroad track. One day the railroad company had enormous concrete blocks dropped across an access road, with a sign: "No crossing here," Bishop says.


"The small landowners' claim had been denied in a summary judgment, which stated they did not have an easement and therefore the railroad was not obligated to give them access to their land and homes. Our class worked on appealing it," says Bishop.

"To take on a multibillion dollar railroad company was a big deal," Bishop says, "but Professor Peñalver was steadfast in his courage and tenacity. It floored me that he cared so much about this small group of people. He also trusted the students and gave us a free hand in putting together the appeal. He really put our education first, and made sure that the clinic was a solid educational experience for us." The best part? "After we filed the first brief, the railroad settled the case out of court in favor of the small landowners and dragged those concrete blocks back to where they came from," Bishop reports.


Marihug Cedeño '13, an associate with Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York City, first met Peñalver at a dinner to welcome Latino law students when she was an entering first-year. "Being a new law student was intimidating," she recalls, "but he opened up his home and made us feel welcomed and supported, which made the transition easier."


She got to work more with him after she became president of the Law School Latino American Law Students Association (LALSA), where he was the group's adviser.


"He has a unique way of connecting with students and is a role model to us all but in particular to students of color," she says. "With LALSA he made himself very available to us from the start, even though he was juggling academic and family demands," which impressed her.


Now Cedeño is involved with the Latino alumni community. "My big goal is to engage our alumni community more," she says. She was thrilled to learn that Peñalver had been named the Law School's new dean. She thinks his presence will help a lot with that goal "because he understands the important role alumni can play in the lives of law students and in the continued success of the Law School," she says.


"It's exciting to have someone of his background and credentials as dean," Cedeño adds. She knows he'll be great at the job because, "he really makes an effort to reach out. He listens, and is a problem solver."


A PRECEDENT-SETTING HIRE


Peñalver says he's very aware of his pioneering role as the first dean of Latino heritage at an Ivy League law school.


"I would want to succeed as dean no matter what my background was, but there's an added sense that I am representing Latinos, the broader community, and the responsibility of setting a good precedent," he says.


"I can't say that I'll be doing x, y, and z differently than I would if I didn't have family who grew up in Cuba," he says. "But I do think that experiences I've had will add value to the role I'll play, bring perspectives that might otherwise not be there, and provide me with tools that I hope will be useful."


At forty-one, he also is one of the youngest deans at a top-tier law school. Will that be an asset or a handicap? "I do think there's a trend toward younger deans now," he says, citing Trevor Morrison, who taught at Cornell Law School in 2003-2008 and became New York University School of Law's dean in 2013 at age forty-one, and David Schizer, who was in his thirties when he became dean at Columbia Law School.


Being relatively younger may present some challenges in terms of the learning curve, he says, but has some advantages as well in terms of energy, which deans, like athletes, need a lot of.


WHAT HE'LL BRING


Peñalver, who left his Cornell Law School faculty post at the end of spring 2012 for the University of Chicago Law School before returning to become dean, says, "Like Cornell, it's a terrific school and I'm proud to have been associated with it. It's been useful for me to see what they do differently that we might learn from or avoid at Cornell."


In the learn-from category, he hopes to import the idea of a series of informal, one-credit seminars taught by faculty in their homes in the evenings over a meal. Subjects could be lighthearted (perhaps Law and Wine) or serious.


The goal: to create a relaxed setting for students to interact with faculty so that they really get to know one another and perhaps form friendships that enrich the law school experience.


"It's the kind of thing you can only do at a small law school like Cornell's, and I think it would be great here," he says.


A course where students can relax and kick back shows a side to Peñalver that people who know him well all mention- his wonderful sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself on occasion.


"He made a presentation to us once showing that Cornell Law School had more pilots on its faculty than any other Ivy League law school," recalls Alexander. (FYI: it has four, currently- Professors Michael Heise, W. Bradley Wendel, and Charles K. Whitehead, in addition to Peñalver, who has flown single-engine airplanes for fun and relaxation since he was a lawstudent.)


"He was kind enough to come to Reunion this June to get a jump start on meeting alumni," reports outgoing dean Schwab.


The two deans gave a joint presentation on the state of the Law School that included a visual of a duck and a chicken. "The duck was labeled 'Lame Duck' and had my face on it," says Schwab, "and was wearing enormous shoes, with water splashing off its back."


The chicken was labeled "Spring Chicken" and had Peñalver's face on it and good-sized feet- "certainly big enough to fill the duck's shoes," says the outgoing dean, who supplied the visuals.

FORMATIVE YEARS


His academic pedigree aside, Peñalver's character may have been shaped most by sitting around his family's dinner table when he was growing up in Puyallup, Washington, a small, mostly working-class town in the shadow of Mt. Rainier.


"There were five of us: my older sister, me, and three younger brothers," he says. "Our parents encouraged us to question things-and them. There were affectionate but heated arguments at the table about everything, from the role of women in the church to world politics to local land use to what we thought of my sister's boyfriends. There would always be a range of opinions. It was kind of a raucous environment, a lot of energy and yelling. That's how we expressed our love for each other."


In terms of career advice, "they told us not to make decisions based on what would make us the most money or glory but, instead, on where we could have the biggest impact to make the world a better place," Peñalver was quoted as saying in a feature story Tacoma's News Tribune published in March on his highachieving family.


Like Peñalver, most of his siblings have advanced degrees; work in such professions as medicine, law, psychology, teaching, and theater; and are committed to service, the story noted.


Peñalver's father, Ovidio, came to the United States from Cuba in 1962. He studied medicine at the University of Southern California, where he met his wife, Margaret, a nurse, whose family were from Switzerland.


"We ended up in Puyallup because my dad joined a pediatric practice there after his residency," says Peñalver. His paternal grandmother, who only spoke Spanish, lived with them, and her presence made him feel close to Cuban culture.


A SCHOLAR AND ACTIVIST


"I was a huge fan of [Cornell astronomer] Carl Sagan and Cosmos as a kid," Peñalver recalls. "Maybe the one thing I knew about Cornell before I started looking at colleges was that was where Carl Sagan was, and that's what got me to apply."


Although he also considered Harvard and MIT, Cornell's public component and claim to offer an elite education without being elitist seemed just right, he says. It was the only place to which he applied.


A College Scholar with an interest in American history as an undergraduate, Peñalver connected with other students on campus with Latino roots, but discovered that Cornell had almost no Latino faculty, few courses in Latino studies, and no Latino-themed living center.


He became an outspoken leader of the then-nascent Latino students group. He and other members of the group occupied Day Hall for four days in 1994, sitting on its cold floors seeking an audience with top administrators to negotiate change.


"We were provocative in our methods," Peñalver acknowledges, "but I think that's pretty typical of undergraduates. As I've come to experience things from the faculty side of education, I can put Cornell in a perspective that I didn't have when I was eighteen," he says.


He praises university administrators for "responding in a really constructive way and ultimately making changes that I think were very positive." In addition to more Latino faculty and courses, those included the strengthening of a Latino Studies Program that today "adds a lot of richness to the intellectual community of Cornell and is a source of pride to all," Peñalver says, and a Latino Living Center, which "has become a real cultural resource on campus for everyone, not just Latino students."


One beneficiary was Cedeño,who used the Latino Living Center as a resource and took many Latino Studies courses when she was an undergraduate. "He helped give Latino students a visibility and a voice, and his actions led to changes I am grateful for," she says.


Peñalver's activism was tempered by scholarship even back then. One of his professors, American historian Mary Beth Norton, says, "Eduardo was always a standout as an undergraduate. He was a real leader in the class, intellectually curious and involved in the subject, always asking interesting questions."


She recommended him for a Rhodes Scholarship, which he was awarded in 1995. (Cornell supported his application, flying him out to Seattle for his interview.)


But perhaps the best thing that happened to him as an undergraduate was meeting Sital Kalantry, the Cornell Class of 1994 classmate who became his wife.


Their relationship began soon after they met at Stella's, a coffee shop and restaurant in Collegetown. "I was having coffee waiting for my roommate, and she thought I was there alone," he says. "She felt sorry for me, so she invited me to join her and her friend."


Both graduated magna cum laude and went on to obtain master's degrees in England (his is in philosophy and theology from Oxford's Oriel College, hers from the London School of Economics), then law degrees (his is from Yale, hers from the University of Pennsylvania). They were married in 1997 in Melville, New York, in Catholic and Hindu ceremonies. Their multicultural wedding was written about in the Sunday New York Times Style section.


Peñalver is justly proud of his wife's professional accomplishments since then. She was on the Cornell Law School faculty from 2006 until 2012 as a clinical professor of law, and returns to that position this fall.


She founded the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic and cofounded the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell. She has received a Fulbright-Nehru grant to conduct an empirical study of the Indian Supreme Court and is the recipient of several awards for her work on women's rights. She rejoins Cornell from the University of Chicago Law School, where she founded and directed the International Human Rights Clinic. In both her scholarship and clinical work, she brings to bear multidisciplinary methodologies to understand and solve human rights problems.


"We are very pleased that Sital is rejoining the clinical faculty," says Professor John Blume, director of Clinical, Advocacy and Skills Programs and director of the Cornell Death Penalty Project. "We have made great strides in improving our clinical and skills programs over the last three to four years, and Sital was an important part of that process as a teacher, mentor, scholar, and colleague. We are enthusiastic about her return as we build to our strength in International Human rights."


FAMILY MATTERS


The new dean and his wife now have two sons, Maximo Siddhartha, eight, and Jai Julio, six. Both were born in Ithaca and are happy that the family is returning there, Peñalver says. When he asked them to weigh in on his decision to accept the deanship, "there were no dissenters."


"I love spending time with our kids and watching them grow up," says Peñalver. "They are balls of energy, running circles around Sital and me. We try to encourage them to have a bit of what I had growing up, to stake out their own point of view and their own place in the world, and pursue their passions."


The family owns property on Cayuga Lake that has a stand of maple trees. "We make our own brand of maple syrup in the spring. We tap the trees, boil and stir the liquid, then put it in little mason jars and give it as gifts to friends," Peñalver says. "To the kids it's sort of like magic to see this water turn into syrup."


And his role? Perhaps it's a little like leading the Law School. He's the facilitator, drawing on the information he gets from others, but all constituencies are engaged in the operation, all play a part in its success and share in its sweetness.


And, just like keeping a top-tier law school on top and in top form, while it may seem like magic-it's a whole lot more than that.


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