I got an unusual email today, and it prompts a small disclosure. Here's the key part of the email:
Hi. It's been a number of years since we've spoken, but I figured I would take a shot at inviting you to lunch when I am on campus September 10th … if you are free that day, I'd be happy to treat my favorite 1st year professor to a sandwich or something.
I choose to treat this as a good omen, and an occasion to reveal that my teaching plans for the Fall semester have undergone a radical change. As you may recall, UM over-admitted its entering class — by a lot — so much that we offered them a bribe to wait a year. But even despite that we've got a lot of incoming 1Ls.
One consequence of this, um, bounty is that we're putting on a whole extra section of first-year classes. And I've been tapped to teach Torts. So for the first time in 15 years I won't be teaching Administrative Law — we've found a fine substitute1 — and I will be teaching my first common law course ever. It's also a return to a first-semester first year course after a layoff of more than a decade; back in the Dark Ages I used to teach Civ Pro I (first semester) and more recently, but still a long time ago, Constitutional Law I (second semester).
Torts is a partial departure for me. Most of my work and all of my teaching has been national or international, procedural, or frankly theoretical (Jurisprudence). But as I think more about privacy issues, torts and tort-like thinking looms larger, and of course common-law reasoning is at the root of so much of what we do, even if it is not a common law subject. Plus, of the common law subjects, tort remains the purest, the least overrun by statutes and codes.
I am looking forward to the class, although not to its size, which could hit 130 students(!). First year students are different: they are very highly motivated, they think entirely like civilians rather than at least partly like lawyers, and there is an unreasonably high fear factor. It's this last aspect that used to put me off what is otherwise a fun and exciting teaching experience: I don't like or want my students to be afraid. By the second year students mostly see through us, so it's no big deal. But first years come in with visions of “Paper Chase” dancing in their heads, and my teaching style, which tends to the dialectic more than to lecture, does not seem to blunt that enough. Or at all.
1 Why, you might ask, move me to Torts and move someone else to Administrative Law? There are a lot of reasons (including that a few years ago I asked to teach Torts), but one of them is that the new Adlaw teacher will be a part-time member of the faculty and there's a policy of staffing first-year courses with full-time (or full-time visiting) faculty whenever possible.