Q&A with law school dean Michael Moffitt
After working for 10 years as a professor and three years as an assistant dean in the University’s School of Law, Michael Moffitt took over as dean in July 2011. He spoke with the Emerald to discuss what he wants to accomplish in his leadership of the law school and his professional [email protected]@http://directory.uoregon.edu/telecom/directory.jsp?p=findpeople%2Ffind_results&m=staff&d=person&b=name&[email protected]@
ODE: How did you end up in the field of law?
MM: When I was growing up, and when I applied to law school, I had never even met a lawyer. I grew up in a really rural area, and no one in my family was a lawyer, I had just never had reason to know lawyers. When I was an undergrad, I developed a real passion for understanding conflict and pretty quickly from there understood how central the rule of law is to resolving differences between people and applied to law school because I wanted to study that more in-depth.
Where did you go to college?
I went to undergrad at a little liberal arts college in Ohio called Marietta College. It was there where I began my study of conflict and my study of international conflict. When I was looking for grad school, I went to some place where I could build on that, so I went to Harvard. When I was at Harvard, I began to run the student mediation program at Harvard and then got my law degree from Harvard and went off into the world.
What did you do before you became an educator?
I did two things: The first was clerk for a federal judge, which gave me a front row seat to how our courts operate. It also gave me a real mentor for the rest of my life, because the judge I worked for, she was amazing. And then after that, I spent several years working on conflict and negotiation questions, primarily international. I would say about 2/3 of my work was international — in the span of a few years, I worked in about 20 different countries. Some of the things I worked on were public-sector disputes — border wars, ethnic conflicts and public resource disputes. Some of what I did was private sector — working for banks, working for companies who were working with investors to negotiate favorable terms on deals they were working on.
What prompted you to get into education?
Two things: one, I love the classroom. I just love the idea of spending part of my day trying to figure out how to help students understand conflicts, understand concepts and make the transition to professional life. The second piece of it, beyond just loving teaching, is that I just really believe in higher education and, in particular, in professional education. I think it can help to transform people’s lives, and if I can be part of that, it just seems like a great way to spend my time.
How did you end up at the University?
I taught at Harvard for three or four years in a couple of different capacities and in late 2000, the law school at Oregon was looking for someone to teach dispute resolution. At exactly the same time, my spouse and I were looking for an opportunity to move someplace that would give professional opportunities but would also be a great place to raise a family. It was just a perfect lucky match from my perspective.
What is your greatest accomplishment in academia?
I think the things that I am best known for nationally are some of the things I have written, articles and books. But the thing of which I am most proud personally is the growth of the dispute resolution center at the University of Oregon. And that includes at the law school and in the masters program and now reaching into the undergraduate side. That’s the thing I’m proudest of.
What do you want to accomplish in your leadership of the School of Law?
Well, I want to build on the law school’s national reputation. I want to continue to attract top-notch students and faculty. I want to find ways for us to provide even better post-graduation success for our students and alumni. I want to make sure that we integrate with the other world-class programs at the University of Oregon so that our students and faculty and alumni can take advantage of all that has to offer.
The law school is the only part of the University on the semester system and its students often aren’t involved in the campus community because of their workload. How do you integrate the law school into the greater University campus?
It’s a great question. There are many things we already do to integrate with the University. We have five joint-degree programs that we offer. Our faculty do outstanding interdisciplinary research. We have students who are often able to do cross-registered graduate programs. Those sorts of things we can continue and can build on, but I think there are even more opportunities for us to be part of other graduate schools and part of the undergraduate experience. They may require us to do things differently than we are currently doing them, but we as a law school will be working hard in the coming years to overcome as many of those obstacles as we can.
What do you think is the most pressing issue for current law students?
My guess is that most law students would say that the most pressing issues surround questions about whether they will have the opportunity to do the kinds of professional work they hope to do. Many of our students come to Oregon with a pretty clear picture of how they want to use their law degrees. Particularly given the economy, I think that many of them are wondering whether they will have those opportunities in the way that they were hoping.
What’s your favorite non-University-related thing to do in Eugene?
If it’s just me, what I really love to do is play tennis or even squash. I was a competitive college tennis player, and I love to still get out on the court even though I’m nowhere near as good as I used to be. Most of my time is joyfully are taken by my daughters, both of whom are under the age of 10.
Do you have any advice for incoming law school students?
A couple of things. The first of which is to think hard about whatever interest or passion motivated you to apply to law school in the first place. Law school has a reputation as being very hard, and that reputation is well-deserved. It is hard, but remembering why you’re here can really help. The second piece of advice is to be humble about your ability to predict what you will do with your career. When I applied to law school, I knew I wanted to do conflict resolution work and I knew with absolute certainty that I would never want to be a law professor. I am a living cautionary tale about making long-term career plans.
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