Changes in Colorado Prompt Call for a New Kind of Professor

U. of Denver

Sam Kamin
August 03, 2015

Professor of Pot

One day in 2009, Sam Kamin was sitting in a coffee shop in Denver and noticed multiple ads for marijuana in the local newspaper. Medical marijuana had been approved by voters in Colorado in 2000, but he wondered why businesses that had been operating quietly, for the most part, now wanted to go more public. "Why are people suddenly so willing to advertise that they are breaking federal law?" he asked himself.

The topic has been on his mind a lot since then. Six years later, he became a professor of marijuana law and policy at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law.

In 2012, after Coloradans voted to legalize recreational use of the drug, Mr. Kamin was appointed by the governor to a panel that developed recommendations to regulate the marijuana industry. He has done similar work in California.

Mr. Kamin says his course, "Representing the Marijuana Client," is the country’s first practitioner-focused class on marijuana law. It was oversubscribed this past spring.

His research has brought him to marijuana dispensaries, marijuana-law firms, and, recently, to Colombia, where he spoke at several conferences on alternatives to the lengthy drug wars there.

Since joining the Denver faculty, in 1999, Mr. Kamin has researched criminal-law procedure and constitutional law.

In May, Brian Vicente, a former law student of Mr. Kamin’s who co-founded a law firm for marijuana-industry clients, helped create Mr. Kamin’s new professorship.

Mr. Kamin says that he was initially wary of being stereotyped, but that his university has supported him all the way. "If people want to make jokes, you have to come up with something I haven’t heard before," he adds, "because I’ve mostly heard them all."

At the end of this year, he plans to visit Uruguay, the first country to legalize the growth, sale, purchase, and use of marijuana.

Meanwhile the continuing debate in America lends itself to interesting case studies and research. "This is a unique federal moment," Mr. Kamin says. The use of marijuana is illegal at the federal level, but not in certain states.

"I was lucky to be in the place that was happening," he says, and to "have access to the people who were doing this." —Meg Bernhard

Law and Social Justice

Ken Bennett, Wake Forest U.

Suzanne Reynolds

After Suzanne Reynolds became interim dean of Wake Forest University’s School of Law last year, she hoped a new dean would bring a "fresh set of eyes" to the school where she has taught since 1981, she says. But as she was suggested repeatedly as a candidate, she came to embrace the new possibility.

Ms. Reynolds, who became permanent dean on July 1, is an expert on family law. That area has gone from being "a stepchild" to a mainstream part of the law curriculum, she notes. It has also shaped her own philosophy of teaching and administration. As in the practice of family law, it’s better for a leader "not to bring a position that she’s advocating" but to listen to different constituencies and analyze their points of view to determine the best course of action, she says.

As dean, Ms. Reynolds plans to "respond to the change in the delivery of legal services" and to give students a sense of active responsibility for maintaining social justice. She will also work on a new edition of her three-volume treatise on North Carolina family law, with updates that reflect the recent Supreme Court ruling recognizing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.

Outside of academe, Ms. Reynolds has served as an administrator of professional and judicial organizations dedicated to the prevention of domestic violence and the advancement of women in the legal profession.

Among the highlights of her career is working with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with whom she taught a course in comparative constitutional law in 2008 as part of a Wake Forest program in Venice. Justice Ginsburg "is a master teacher," Ms. Reynolds says, "and we did some touristy things. —Isaac Stein

The Spiritual Side

When Clark G. Gilbert took over as president of Brigham Young University-Idaho, in April, its mission was already embedded within him. He had just spent several years managing some of the media holdings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates the university. And he had worked at the institution earlier, overseeing the distance education that contributed to its rapid growth.

As chief executive of the company that publishes the Deseret News, Utah’s second-largest newspaper, he expanded its emphases on issues of spirituality, family, and values. He also set up a national online edition.

Spiritual matters are front and center at the university, too, he says. The institution, in eastern Idaho, has enjoyed booming enrollment for more than a decade. In its year-round calendar, more than 20,000 on-campus students enroll for just two of three 14-week semesters, to optimize use of the facilities. On-campus students can take online-degree courses along with thousands of distant enrollees.

"We’re not just in education to transmit academic information or for career training," Mr. Gilbert says. "We really focus on developing the whole person. We call it, at our university, discipleship." That means, he says, gauging the university’s influence on its students’ "future roles as fathers and mothers," spiritual development, leadership growth, and "service and willingness to give back."

Students are assessed collectively for their success in "a social-learning process where they have to teach other students what they’re learning," says Mr. Gilbert, who returned to Rexburg with his wife and their eight children. He was associate academic vice president in charge of online and distance education from 2006 to 2009, before he left to lead Deseret Digital Media and, the next year, the Deseret News Publishing Company as well.

BYU-Idaho students fare well, he says, academically and otherwise, in terms of "the personal, spiritual, and holistic approach" that the institution professes. "This is news to many of my academic colleagues, but if you look at the data, young people, millennials, are deeply spiritual people," he says. "They want to give back, they are service-oriented — and they come into a world that treats them as if they are purely secular people." —Peter Monaghan

The Stuff of Welcome

Nick Giordano

Rochester Institute of Technology

Moving out of dorms can be a hectic time for students.

But when Nick Giordano, a rising fifth-year student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, noticed that students left behind useful items like furniture and toiletries, he decided to do something about it. This year Mr. Giordano, who is also student-government president, helped organize a recycling program called "Goodbye, Goodbuy" during move-out days. It collected 50,000 pounds of goods.

The program, based on a similar push at the University of New Hampshire, is aligned with the efforts of many colleges to leave a smaller ecological footprint, Mr. Giordano says. Even though it was a big "culture change," he says, many students donated their possessions or volunteered to process items like lamps, canned goods, and school supplies.

"That was a big unknown, that people would actually participate," he says.

Donated items, which filled six truck trailers, will be resold at a "thrift-store-type" event when students return to campus this month, he says. Some other donations went to a food bank.

Mr. Giordano says "Goodbye, Goodbuy" will leave a lasting impact. For him, he says, "creating a project that didn’t exist, from scratch, was the most valuable work experience."

Enid Cardinal, senior sustainability adviser at the university, organized a smaller version of the program last year and says it creates a "teachable moment" about budgeting as well as conservation. "This is a type of program where there’s a clear example of ‘what’s in it for me,’ " she says.

Mr. Giordano worked full time in RIT’s sustainability office alongside Ms. Cardinal for a semester. Even if only a handful of students as driven as Mr. Giordano graduate from college, she says, she has hope for the future.

"He’s extremely dedicated," she says. "I don’t think he sleeps very much." —Colleen Murphy

Obituary: Leader of HBCU Effort Dies at 68

George E. Cooper, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, died on July 18. He was 68.

Mr. Cooper was president of South Carolina State University, a historically black institution, from 2008 to 2012. He also worked for 17 years for an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that advanced farming by supporting programs at land-grant universities. In his White House role, which he began in 2013, he is credited with working toward increasing federal funds for historically black colleges.

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