Letter to University of Detroit Law School

March 21, 1996

Dear Search Committee:

I am pleased to enclose my curriculum vitae and indicate through this letter my interest in the position of Dean of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. To help the committee determine whether to proceed further with this application, I shall describe the three attributes that I believe are central to your decision.

I. Vision

I thought it an auspicious sign that the position announcement began with the sentence "The school seeks a leader with the vision to develop its human and physical resources in dynamic and creative ways." Particularly at this moment in Catholic legal education the critical question is what sort of vision we have for the future. At Gonzaga Law School I have been attempting to transform our law school from one that is nominally Catholic to one that is authentically Catholic. In part I am motivated by the sense that our culture generally, and the legal profession specifically, is crying out for leadership that can be uniquely provided by an institution like Detroit Mercy.

The Need. It is no secret that we live in a culture that has suffered from a loss of commitment to transcendent values. This has a direct reflection in the legal profession for which we prepare our students. At the same time that law has assumed a more and more prominent place in the life of American society, there has been a correlative decline in public confidence that the result of legal procedures is justice. Students preparing to enter the legal profession suffer both from a loss of prestige as well as a loss of confidence that they are actually contributing to the welfare of society.

The Opportunity. As Daniel Morrissey stated in his article in America, A Catholic Moment in Legal Education? (October 29, 1994), those of us engaged in Catholic legal education have an unparalleled opportunity to serve our society. "Our tradition has never forgotten that humans are ethical beings, that for all our shortcomings most people sincerely want to live lives that are fit and worthy." (p. 6). In my discussions with new students, as well as with prospective students, I am constantly impressed with the frequency with which the ethical ideals of the profession are at the heart of what motivates students to seek a legal education.

The History. It has to be candidly acknowledged, however, that we have not always faithful to this calling. I have to admit that I have been quite ashamed when students come to Gonzaga on the strength of our catalogue description of our Catholic and Jesuit tradition and find that there is little to distinguish Gonzaga Law School from secular institutions. A good example is in the treatment of the rights of the unborn. If Catholic institutions were more faithful to their calling, they would recognize that we stand in a historical position that is quite similar to the early 1950's prior to Brown v. Board of Education. Then the positive law stated that it was lawful for states to mandate legal separation of the races. One would like to look back on those days and find Catholic law schools in the forefront of efforts to discredit the Constitutional basis of Plessy v. Ferguson. Catholic law schools should have insisted on hiring faculty who were firmly committed to the equal dignity of all persons, and to the dismantling of legal barriers to full participation by everyone regardless of race. Yet today, when a million and a half American children die every year under the banner of "freedom of choice," most Catholic law schools continue to hire faculty without the slightest regard for whether they share a commitment to the unborn. In fact, it is widely believed that even to inquire about such an issue would infringe upon the academic freedom of the institution.

An illustration from a recent publication of one our sister Jesuit law schools will sharpen the issue. In a lengthy article describing the new law faculty members a broad spectrum of backgrounds and viewpoints was presented. There was even a new faculty member who is a Jesuit. But the article was quick to reassure the reader that this new professor "labors self-consciously always to teach with an open mind. He takes special care to avoid even the appearance of `towing a party line.'" No such reassurance was provided with respect to any of the other faculty. Presumably they would be free to speak their minds and persuade students of the positions to which they were committed. Only the Jesuit was put on a leash to insure that he would not stray from ideological neutrality.

It seems to me that this is precisely the opposite of what a Jesuit law school should be doing. Instead of hiding its light under a bushel basket, Jesuit law schools should be calling their students to a higher degree of fidelity to the bedrock principles of natural rights at precisely the moment that they are most under attack in the society as a whole.

Tolerance and Inclusion. A recent symposium issue in the Marquette Law Review on religiously affiliated law schools contained some comments to the effect that an implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae would threaten the atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion that has been the hallmark of successful educational institutions. I believe many of these fears are misplaced. A distinction needs to be drawn between the tolerance and inclusion that needs to be shown toward individual members of the community and the accountability of the institution as a whole. Those who are already members of a Catholic law school community, or who are brought into the community in the future, should be treated with cordiality and respect, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with Catholic principles, no matter how fundamental. I have told my colleagues that if Harry Blackmun became available as an adjunct law professor, I would be the first one to vote to have him teach. However, that does not diminish the accountability of the institution for the responsibility it has undertaken when it takes on the name of Catholic or Jesuit. We will be judged in the long run by how well we have fulfilled the fiduciary role we have assumed by becoming faculty members at a Jesuit law school. Have we, like Mother Teresa, recognized the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor, in the criminal defendant, in the victim of domestic violence, in the convict on death row, in the welfare recipient, in the medical waste bin at an abortion clinic? But that responsibility should make us more charitable, rather than less, in dealing with those with whom we disagree.

II. Skills

Although I am an unusual candidate from the standpoint that I have not served in any official administrative rôle (such as Associate Dean or Dean of another law school), I believe that I would bring to this position a blend of skills that would allow me to lead the law school.

Practice. I practiced law for four years with Spokane's largest law firm, and for an additional year in California. I continue to practice law on as an attorney of counsel to a local law firm. I am enthusiastic about the joys of being a lawyer and relish the opportunity to train others in the craft. I believe that a law school dean must be someone who is supportive of the work of lawyering, both in dealing with students, alumni, and the public as a whole.

Teaching. I have consistently high student evaluations, and have succeeded in a variety of teaching methods, including traditional Socratic instruction, role-play simulations, computer exercises, and team teaching. I have participated in an extensive reevaluation of our own curriculum and have been an informal consultant to the Gonzaga Institute on Law School Teaching.

Scholarship. I have authored and use my own casebook (published by Lupus Publications) and have written the definitive work on Washington Tort Law and Practice published by West Publishing Co. I have authored several law review articles, including a comprehensive treatment of the religion clauses.

Administration. I have participated in a wide variety of administrative projects, including the Steering Committee for Gonzaga University's 1993 Accreditation Self-Study, the Executive Committee of the Council for Partnership in Mission, and numerous law school committees. I recently inaugurated a TV program entitled "Gonzaga Viewpoints" that airs nightly on Cable Channel 15. I have enthusiasm for new projects and the ability to carry through on commitments.

III. Temperament

The final quality that a deaconal candidate must have to be successful is a suitable temperament. A person with good vision and with exceptional skills may still fail if a suitable temperament is lacking. Today's law school world is notoriously hostile to law school deans, and their attrition rate is alarming. My chief asset is that I try to retain my good humor even when the situation is frustrating. I believe that a call to my colleagues, the staff I work with, my students, my family, and my neighbors would yield the opinion that I remain cheerful under the worst of circumstances. In particular, I would commend to the committee my current situation. I have taken a rather bold position with respect to my colleagues on the question of whether we should make efforts to reinvigorate the Catholic character of the institution. That has not always made me popular. However, I have remained civil in all of my dealings and enjoy the continued friendship of many with whom I am in ideological competition. My first teacher in law school, and an abiding mentor of mine, is Guido Calabresi. It is no accident (so to speak!) that I became a Torts professor. While I differ with him on many issues, I have retained the greatest admiration for his ability to be supportive, to look for opportunities to bring out the best in people rather than to drive out the worst.

At the end of my first year of teaching I delivered a little farewell to my students and concluded by reading a poem written two years before his death by the German lyric poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The last stanza is as follows:

     Stretch your practised powers until their tension
     spans the distance between two
     contradictions . . . For the god's intention
     is to know himself in you.
I believe that the difficulty of being Dean is the requirement that one be stretched between the competing demands of students, faculty, alumni, university administration, one's own family, the community at large, and more besides. This sacrifice is worth it only if it can be recognized as an opportunity for the Divine to be known in us. I hope always to be conscious and appreciative of that great gift.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Very truly yours,

David K. DeWolf