Letters to the editor

Law dean's critics were a small minority

As a 13-year member of the George Washington University Law School Board of Advisors, I am thoroughly disgusted by the ad hominem attacks by some infantile faculty members against the deanship of Paul Schiff Berman. (Feb. 25, p. 1).

These professors, with their venomous anonymous accusations, are more concerned about perpetuating some sort of personal vendetta than they are about the students.

Their behavior will have disastrous effects on the law school's reputation and standing in the legal community.

It took about eight months to complete the dean search process. Scores of the best minds – alumni, faculty and University President Steven Knapp – were involved in the selection and hiring of Berman. Notwithstanding, there was a small vocal faction of the faculty who did not agree with the Berman choice.

Berman’s resume is impressive. He is a Princeton University graduate, obtained his J.D. from New York University, was the managing editor of the NYU Law Review, a law clerk to Chief Judge Harry Edwards, a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and four-year dean for the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

So, what happened? Well, according to this small anonymous boisterous faculty cabal, upon becoming the dean, Berman suddenly became an ill-mannered bully who wreaked havoc upon staff and bruised the sensitivities of a small group of petulant faculty.

One can only further conclude that these same bureaucrats, who are heavily invested in maintaining the antiquated legal school model for their own selfish interest, became threatened by this young visionary – read troublemaker – who dared to implement transformative change.

Objectively, as a board member, I witnessed what happened during the short Berman deanship. This period was one of the best for fundraising in the school’s history. He reached out to an unprecedented amount of alumni to reintroduce them to the GW community. He developed relationships with board members. He created much-needed new student-centered programs and began a 21st-century branding for the law school.

Hopefully, those who are influential at GW can stop this irrational campaign that continues to publicly disparage and embarrass our school.

Robert L. Patron is a member of GW Law School's Board of Advisors.

Anonymous sources devalue journalism

As an avid consumer of journalism, I am always highly skeptical of the motives and
accuracy of sources quoted anonymously.

It is especially disappointing to see budding journalists rely almost exclusively on anonymous sources to challenge the accomplishments and leadership abilities of a highly successful individual. For these reasons, among others, I was saddened to read the article, “Law faculty plotted to oust dean,” (Feb. 25, p. 1) about Paul Schiff Berman’s departure from the GW Law School.

As a 1979 graduate of the law school, a member for many years, under several deans and interim deans, of the law school dean’s Board of Advisors, as a donor and as a partner and employer of many fine graduates of the school, I have maintained a strong relationship with and interest in it.

Although I do not claim first-hand knowledge of the faculty machinations described in the article, if accurate they strike me as at best unbecoming and at worst short-sighted, self-interested and petty.

I do, however, know, respect and admire Berman. The challenges facing legal education at this moment are epochal. Nevertheless, during this time of unprecedented challenge for legal education, Berman’s energy, passion and enthusiasm for the law school and legal education were invaluable.

His ideas and efforts to help the law school realize its great potential as the center of legal education in the nation’s capital were inspirational and effective. His fundraising prowess impressed each of us on the Board of Advisors, especially during a challenging economic time.

And his effort last spring to telephone each student admitted into the entering law school class for fall 2012 — every single one — reflected both a calm recognition of the cold, hard facts of declining law school applications and a near heroic investment of his own time over the course of many weeks.

Now, Berman has taken a position as vice provost for online education and academic innovation. He is enthusiastic about this new and exciting role, and the University is fortunate to have him in it. With his vision, energy and enthusiasm, I am confident he will help position GW as a leader in online learning.

Bobby R. Burchfield is a partner with McDermott Will & Emery LLP and a member of the GW Law School’s Board of Advisors.

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