A Professor’s Reach

February 21, 2011 - 12 AM

M.L., 1L

Recently, I have been performing research with the intent of fulfilling one of two writing requirements. It was eye-catching to see the particular ways in which my civil procedure professor, Owen Fiss, was mentioned in others’ research:

  • From Reva Siegel, current professor at YLS: “I was fortunate to study equality law with Owen Fiss, as did Robert Post before me.” (Post is the current Dean of YLS.)
  • From Samuel Issacharoff and Pamela Karlan, current professors at NYU Law and Stanford Law, respectively: “While we were students, each of us spent hours in Owen’s office discussing our papers, his articles, and the law.”
  • From Martha Minow, current Dean of Harvard Law, in one of the first acknowledgements of In Brown’s Wake, her latest book: “Decades ago…Owen Fiss at the Yale Law School offered encouragement and tough questions.”

Before stumbling across these words of praise, I already knew how influential my professor had been to many. During an outing with our small group last semester, Prof. Fiss had mentioned that Akhil Amar, conlaw extraordinaire (who often engaged in friendly ribbing of Fiss during our conlaw class), had been his research assistant. In addition, once during office hours, which he holds liberally, Fiss had mentioned that Goodwin Liu, professor at Berkeley Law and current federal judiciary nominee, had been a standout in his small group. Finally, when a group of us students had a chance to visit the State Department recently, Harold Koh, former Dean of YLS and current State Legal Adviser, proclaimed Fiss “one of my heroes.”

However, seeing these very personal words in print – for all of posterity – really brought to life how much of a far-reaching influence Prof. Fiss has had in the lives of many of today’s legal stars, from Yale to Berkeley to Harvard to NYU to Stanford and back to Yale. It also underscored how the small class sizes at Yale enable people to be challenged by their professors in the personal way that Siegel, Karlan, and Dean Minow were challenged by Fiss.

On the last day of our civil procedure class, in a retirement speech that made several students cry, Prof. Fiss called his students his greatest achievement and “the repository of my dreams.” “We don’t know what it looks like,” he said, “but I hope and trust that you will pursue justice.” I am fortunate to have had such a professor here at Yale – and like many of my classmates, I am eager to carry the baton currently carried by our predecessors.