The academic year starts tonight with the first-year dinner, an event I think I've attended each of my 18 (!) years here. I was curious to see if I'd ever blogged about it, and it seems I did in 2005's First-Year Dinner Report:
One of the self-imposed duties that comes with the job is attending the dinner we give to welcome first-year students. If that sentence sounds as if the dinner isn't something I look forward to, well consider these facts:
- The dinner consumes scarce and expensive baby-sitting resources (my wife and I both teach at UM; we both feel we have to go)
- The preprandial cocktail party is held outdoors at one of the most oppressive and sweltering times of the year
- I am always the designated driver and thus the open bar is just adding insult to injury
- I have to smile a lot
- I don't teach any first year classes, so many students seem disappointed to meet me, focused as they are on what they fear is an upcoming first-year ordeal.
This year was no exception as to points 1-4, but very different on point 5: a surprising number of incoming students had found this blog, so they seemed happy to put a face to the rants.
And I happened to sit with some extraordinary students at dinner:
- A Romanian (from Transylvania, no less), with a philosophy Ph.D from Stanford, supervised by Richard Rorty
- An American fresh back from working in Niger
- A Polish-born American who recently resigned a commission in US Army intelligence (in part, he said, because the failure to prosecute commanders for recent atrocities — an absence of command responsibility — suggested a failure among our leaders to hew to the ideals he had been taught he was serving).
- A Kazakhstani national here on a Fullbright whose English is flawless.
And these were not our international LL.M. students, who are always wonderfully experienced and diverse. These are a random sample of our J.D. students.
One could have quite a bit of fun teaching in a place full of students like that…
Of course, some things have changed since 2005:
- We don't need baby-sitters any more;
- The Dean's office stopped holding the cocktail part of the reception in the sweltering and potentially rainy Biltmore courtyard, and instead booked a nice large room;
- The idea of standing for an hour even if not in the heat seems potentially physically challenging, so rather than making a point to be on time, I'll probably be a bit late for the cocktail part;
- I teach a first-year class: Torts.
It's still an event in which I have to smile a lot, but maybe there's something to smile about. No word yet on who's driving, though.