People

New Dean Asks More of a Successful Law School, and Other News About People

Peter Freed, Columbia Law

Gillian Lester
April 13, 2015

A Deeper Look at the Law

At a time when legal education is in turmoil, Columbia Law School is in an enviable position, with students still clamoring to be admitted to the top-tier program whose graduates overwhelmingly land full-time jobs.

The law school’s new dean, Gillian Lester, doesn’t plan to allow the school to simply rest on its reputation.

"We feel very privileged that we still have many more people applying to Columbia Law School than we can admit," says Ms. Lester, a scholar of employment law. "That said, we do want to train students in a way that emphasizes being the best possible professional for the needs of a challenging profession."

Ms. Lester came to Columbia in January from the University of California at Berkeley, where she was acting dean of the law school. Information gathered from months of conversations with Columbia alumni, faculty members, students and administrators — some of which took place during trips to New York before she formally took office — helped her shape her priorities as dean.

Among those priorities, she says, are tweaking the curriculum to help students see themselves as "global actors" and as entrepreneurs who can intentionally craft a career that, over time, spans the private and public sectors. Ms. Lester also wants to forge stronger ties between alumni and current students and maintain "people’s pride about this community."

Students at Columbia Law School are already talented, "so the question is what do we do to make them the best version of themselves," Ms. Lester says. "I talk to our students about taking full advantage of their three years here, to not just ask what the law is, but what the law ought to be."

Administrators, students and faculty are excited about what’s next, she says.

"I see people wanting to roll up their sleeves and get to work." — Audrey Williams June


Alleviating Fear

Marc Campos, Occidental College

Mary Beth Heffernan

An Occidental College professor’s latest art project has a mission: to ease the suffering of Ebola patients.

Mary Beth Heffernan, an associate professor of art history and the visual arts, was struck by images of patients in West Africa being treated by health-care workers wearing full personal protective equipment, or PPE, that covered them from head to toe. The patients cannot even see the faces of the people who have come to help them, she thought.

Why don’t the workers display their pictures on the outside of their protective clothing so they look less frightening?, she wondered. With that idea her PPE Portrait Project was born: She would convert head shots of the health-care workers into adhesive labels that could be stuck on their garments. The labels would humanize the helpers and ease patients’ feelings of isolation, she hoped.

Ms. Heffernan proposed the project to doctors involved in the Ebola response and was invited to test her project in a clinic in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia.

Ms. Heffernan was in Liberia for three weeks, from late February to mid-March, accompanied by a college photographer, Marc Campos, who documented the project. The epidemic was subsiding, but the clinic still had patients exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms.

Ms. Heffernan was not allowed near the patients, but she says the health-care workers told her they noticed a difference in the patients’ response when they wore the labels. "Some visibly smiled or gestured at the label," she says. "The patients were more connected with them."

Before she left, she also gave a rural clinic in Liberia supplies to make the photo labels. She has heard that the portraits were appreciated by both the patients and the health-care workers, who could more easily identify each other.

To pay for the project, Ms. Heffernan received an Arnold P. Gold Foundation grant for humanism in medicine, as well as grants from both the dean’s and president’s office at Occidental.

She says she hopes portrait labels will become protocol in West Africa, at least until improvements in the design of protective clothing are available across the world.

"It has the potential to relieve a tremendous amount of suffering."
— Madeline Will


Between 2 Worlds

Nancy Crampton

Anna Deavere Smith

When Anna Deavere Smith takes the stage, she does not do it alone. She is joined by the many people she has embraced in her search for American character.

Ms. Smith, a professor of performance studies at New York University who is also an actress and a playwright, portrayed those Americans in Washington last week as she delivered the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, an annual event sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and regarded as one of the top honors in the humanities.

Ms. Smith is known for her work in verbatim theater, embodying characters she has interviewed for her continuing project "On the Road: A Search for American Character." Writers are often told to write what they know, but that was not what she wanted to do.

"I made a very concerted decision that I would not write about myself, that I would spend my time trying to study that which was not me," she said in an interview this month.

Ms. Smith has tackled difficult topics in her work, including the Rwandan genocide and the upheaval following the acquittal of Los Angeles police officers on trial for the 1991 beating of Rodney King. Her current project, which she discussed during the lecture, is about what she described as the pipeline from school to prison.

Ms. Smith has been teaching since 1973, at elite institutions like Carnegie Mellon, NYU, and Stanford. Her work at those institutions has made her "very aware of inequity," she says. During her time at Stanford, Ms. Smith says, she realized that over the years the students had become wealthier and even more highly educated. She calls her students "intellectual Maseratis."

It is unfortunate, she says, that students have to pay as much as they do for college, especially students in the arts. In fact, she thinks art schools should be free.

Her research for her Pipeline Project has raised questions for her about the extreme disparity between social classes and the role of education in breaking the cycle of poverty.

"I think of all of my work as not giving answers or takeaways," she says, "but giving opportunities for audiences to bring themselves to the work and to ponder the same questions that I am for an evening."
— Casey Fabris


An American in Norway

Curt Rice, a native Minnesotan, has been appointed rector of Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, the largest such institution in Norway. The position is the equivalent of a college president in the United States.

Mr. Rice, a professor of languages and linguistics at the University of Tromso, also in Norway, will begin his job on August 1. This marks the first time the college’s rector has been chosen through a hiring process rather than being elected, a university news release said.

He has a bachelor’s degree from Augsburg College and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Texas at Austin.

Among other roles, he is leader of Norway’s Committee on Gender Balance and Diversity in Research. He has also written an e-book on gender equality. Past leadership posts include serving as pro rector for research and development at Tromso from 2009 to 2013.
— Ruth Hammond


Past Union Director Dies

Lawrence N. Gold, who was director of higher education at the American Federation of Teachers for two decades, died suddenly of a pulmonary embolism on March 29. He was 68.

In his role, he wrote papers and spoke out on policy issues like faculty control of the content of online courses, and improving student retention and graduation rates.

Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, said in an emailed statement that Mr. Gold’s tenure, from 1992 to 2012, "was marked by his fierce advocacy for the professionalism of our members, not only our tenure-track faculty, but also, and especially, our contingent faculty, academic support personnel, and graduate employees."

His efforts helped to increase the union’s higher-education membership from 90,000 members in 1992 to 195,000 in 2010, two years before his retirement, making the AFT "the largest higher-education union in the country," Ms. Weingarten wrote.

Mr. Gold lobbied for the City University of New York in the early 1970s. He worked in the higher-education office of the U.S. Department of Education under President Carter, but he returned to CUNY to serve as director of its Washington office during President Reagan’s terms. While in that post, he worked to expand the Pell Grant program and student aid for part-time students. — Anais Strickland

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