Summer 2021

The Times They Are A-Changin’

The time has finally come for me to write my last column as dean of Boston College Law School. It is hard to believe that ten years have passed since my deanship began, and what a remarkable decade it has been.

When I arrived at BC in 2011, legal education and the legal profession were under attack. The job market for lawyers was tight, applications to law school were in steep decline, and the media had begun a relentless campaign of questioning the value of a law degree. We were told that law school should only be two years, that legal education was not sufficiently experiential, that law school was too expensive, and that the degree did not deliver sufficient value for the money.

As is the case with many critiques, there was wisdom to be found in some of what was said, but there was also plenty of hyperbole. Some of the attacks were simply wrong and completely misguided. Nevertheless, at BC Law we took a close look at our curriculum, our teaching, our admissions process, and our career services operation, and we realized that there were important changes we could make to enhance the overall experience of law school for our students. We also used the moment to strengthen our relationship with the profession across a range of sectors.

Ten years later we are reaping many benefits from our work of retooling and self-reflection. The 2021 admissions cycle brought us a record number of applicants, and along with most other elite law schools in the nation, we expect to be over enrolled this fall. But something else that may help to explain the surge in interest in law school right now is the easing of fifteen months of pandemic, which coincided with an unprecedented authoritarian threat to our democracy.

“We took a close look at our curriculum, our teaching, our admissions process, and our career services operation, and  we realized that there were important changes we could make to enhance the overall experience of law school for our students.” —Dean Vincent Rougeau

On January 6, 2021, an armed mob stormed the Capitol building in Washington and came dangerously close to overturning a democratic election. As a result, we now know that a significant minority of our elected officials and fellow citizens are eager to discard many longstanding democratic norms in an effort to install leaders of their choosing, notwithstanding the outcomes of elections.

The theories that ground our democracy and the rule of law are under serious attack and those of us trained as lawyers must now stand up and defend them. In this environment, the need for the kind of education provided at BC Law has never been more urgent.  Not only must we expand the legal profession to ensure that we have a large, diverse cadre of trained legal professionals committed to democracy, we also need those lawyers to be steeped in a commitment of service to others, particularly the weak and marginalized.

We no longer can assume that all of our fellow citizens are committed to living under the rule of law. So, as I leave you, I urge the BC Law community to hold firm in its commitment to stand out nationally among other law schools because we respect and are concerned for each individual. We strive to reflect the world’s rich diversity and work together to create a community of growth and learning.

This commitment has guided me in my leadership of this outstanding law school and has made me so proud to be your dean.  These values have been transferred successfully to generations of BC Law students for close to 100 years, and I am confident that they will continue to guide BC Law as it enters its next century in 2029.

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