Daniel Ravicher started and runs a successful entrepreneurship clinic (the “Startup Practicum”) at the University of Miami School of Law. His office happens to be in the same pod as mine, so back in the days when people saw people I would see him from time to time. Like an increasing number of the people who teach students in law these days, Ravicher is not a tenured member of the faculty, and indeed was not hired for his scholarship. Instead he was hired for his skills, and has a term renewable contract.
He’s recently taken to social media – and even Fox TV – to claim he’s been fired for his pro-Trump tweets and other speech, or is about to be, or may not have his contract renewed when it expires. As far as I have been able to ascertain, at least the first two of these claims are simply false. The fate of the third lies well in the future.
While Ravicher has behaved badly – lying about your employer counts as behaving badly in my book – the University has, with one exception (discussed rather far below) [Update: as described in more detail below, according to the Dean, even this wasn’t anywhere as bad as the story that had been going around], behaved quite well, and held, so far at least, to its fundamental commitments to academic freedom.
But first, some lengthy background.
1. The Applicable Rules
The University of Miami, which has substantial powers to dictate rules regarding the terms of faculty employment to the law school, has an extensive Faculty Manual, which describes various rights and duty of the faculty. As regards freedom of speech and academic freedom, the Manual makes no distinction between tenured and non-tenured faculty, although its provisions do not in many cases apply to “staff” who are hired in a different manner and in some cases have fewer rights against dismissal for various reasons.
“Faculty members shall have full freedom of expression as teachers, researchers, scholars, and/or artists; this includes freedom to present their work, to advocate solutions to human problems, and to criticize existing institutions. This freedom does not abrogate faculty members’ responsibility to perform their academic duties or obligations they may have assumed in accepting support for research. Research activities are also subject to University policies such as those on patents, copyrights, and inventions as set forth in the Faculty Manual.
“Faculty members shall have freedom in the classroom in discussing the subject but should avoid persistently introducing material that has no relation to that subject.
“When speaking or writing as members of society, faculty members retain all the rights shared with other members of society and shall be free from University censorship or discipline. It should be remembered that the public may judge a profession and the University by public utterances by faculty members. Faculty members thus should make every effort to indicate whether they are acting as spokespersons for the University or are speaking in a private capacity.”
That is a nice statement, and a pretty absolute rule. But wait, there’s more. Continue reading →
University of Miami School of Law Dean Anthony Varona led the effort to draft and disseminate the letter, and acknowledged the striking nature of the requests.
“Our letter was the result of an extraordinary team effort, that resulted in a letter proposing extraordinary measures—all reflecting the extraordinary challenges faced by our graduating students, the legal profession as a whole, and the society that depends on us for legal services,” Varona said.
Full text of the Florida Deans’ Letter re COVID-19. It is a very good letter, carefully crafted for its audience, one which if rumor is to be believed has absolutely no chance in hell of adopting a Wisconsin-like plan of just waiving in graduates of Florida law schools without an exam. So the question then becomes, what is the next-best plan. The Deans suggest a very complex plan to administer the bar exam — all over the state — in socially distanced law school classrooms, or alternately to extend the existing Certified Legal Intern (CLI) program to permit graduates who clear their character and fitness investigation to practice law under supervision until they have the opportunity to pass the bar exam. Currently that program is limited to actual law students; the proposal is a one-time change to extend it a couple of years beyond graduation.
Our migration to online classes will continue for the balance of the spring semester. Many University offices and departments, including those at Miami Law, have transitioned to remote work staffing structures, while continuing to provide services and resources to students and faculty. Many campus facilities have closed. The Richter and Law Libraries have shifted much of their operations online. UM also has announced that several Commencement ceremonies for Spring 2020 graduates are postponed until December 2020. The Miami Law Commencement ceremony now is scheduled for Friday, December 18th. More details on Commencement 2020 will be forthcoming. Many other UM and Miami Law events have been cancelled or postponed.
All of these adjustments, of course, are precautionary. We recognize that the UM and Miami Law community members – students, faculty, and staff – are our most precious resources. We want to do all we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to help keep you all healthy, while continuing our key academic and administrative activities.
The faculty and staff at Miami Law have been working very hard over the last two weeks to welcome all of you back to classes, online, next Monday. Although many of our administrative and program offices are now on work-from-home schedules, they remain open for business and have continued to serve many students and faculty online, by Email, and by telephone. If you need help from any Miami Law administrative office or program, simply call or email us. Someone will be able to help you either immediately or, in most cases, within one workday.
Miami Law Coronavirus FAQs Webpage
If you have questions related to adjustments and disruptions prompted by the Coronavirus, please refer to the new “Miami Law Coronavirus FAQs” webpage, available here. We will update that FAQs webpage as frequently as possible in order to account for new information and to respond to additional questions as we receive them. Please refer to the FAQs webpage before contacting an administrative office or your professors. Your question, and our answer, may already be included in the FAQs, to which you have 24/7 access. For additional information from UM, please visit the University’s COVID-19 site at coronavirus.miami.edu.
For well over a week, our LawIT colleagues and Miami Law faculty have been hard at work migrating virtually all of our courses to new online platforms. LawIT has completed countless individual and small-group training sessions – hundreds of hours of aggregate instruction and assistance – for all of our faculty colleagues. And just over the last two days, many Miami Law professors (at one point close to 80 full-time and adjunct faculty members) participated in a total of approximately 2 ½ hours of a two-part online law teaching best practices pedagogy seminar, led by master online law teachers on our own faculty.
As a faculty we have been sharing, both synchronously and asynchronously, many ideas and resources to ensure that our migration to online teaching next Monday is as smooth and seamless as possible. Many of you already have received updated syllabi and/or plans course-specific plans for online migration from your individual professors. You should be hearing from the rest of your professors very soon.
In addition, recognizing that online learning, like online teaching, requires its own particular set of skills for success, our Director of Academic Achievement Alex Schimel circulated on Wednesday a set of best practices and recommendations for online law students to get the most out of your online learning experience. Please review them carefully.
Patience Should Prevail, Please
Despite all of our best efforts as faculty and administrators, and all of your best efforts as students, there assuredly will be glitches. And hiccups. And freezes. And temporary service interruptions. Online learning platforms like BlueJeans, Zoom, and Blackboard this week have been investing a tremendous amount of resources towards expanding their relative capacities and capabilities. Still, there will be bumps. In addition, many instructors as well as students in our Miami Law community will, for the first time, be engaging in online education next week.
Patience, therefore, will be in order. Let’s continue to be compassionate and patient with one another, as we all – together – venture into online legal education for the last month or so of our semester and academic year.
We are in the midst of a challenging, and interesting, moment of disruption and inconvenience as a law school, as a university, as a nation, and world. A moment full of uncertainty and even some anxiety. But still just a moment. A temporary moment, that will pass, and that we will survive, stronger for our having experienced and weathered it together as a community.
I have seen many silver linings this week. I hope you have too. Our UM and Miami Law community has been extraordinary in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Extraordinary. Faculty, staff and student community members have risen to the challenge and worked round the clock to protect and prepare our law school. We have shown ourselves as a law school that is full of people who care deeply for one another and for the greater Miami Law family.
I also have seen tremendous excitement and creativity around our migration to online law teaching. Many of my faculty colleagues have identified superb pedagogical techniques that will work better online – and that will provide students with an even more engaging, rigorous, and worthwhile learning experience – than in a traditional exclusively “brick-and-mortar” classroom. I have heard similar excitement from students too. I suspect, in fact, that this experience will result in the incorporation of many more online learning tools into traditional law courses once “social distancing” distances itself into the past.
In sum, we are ready. We are prepared. And we will succeed, together.
Anthony E. Varona Dean and M. Minnette Massey Professor of Law
Prof. Ilya Somin of George Mason (not, certs, one of my ideological bedfellows), has some really good advice for law students. I trust he will forgive me if I do something I almost never do and quote almost all of it:
1. Think carefully about what kind of law you want to practice.
Law is a profession with relatively high income and social status. Yet studies repeatedly show that many lawyers are deeply unhappy, a higher percentage than in most other professions. One reason for this is that many of them hate the work they do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are lots of different types of legal careers out there, and it’s likely that one of them will be a good fit for you…. But to take advantage of this diversity, you need to start considering what type of legal career best fits your needs and interests….
Regardless, don’t just “go with the flow” in terms of choosing what kind of legal career you want to try. The jobs that many of your classmates want may be terrible for you (and vice versa). Keep in mind, also, that you likely have a wider range of options now than you will in five or ten years, when it may be much harder to switch to a very different field from the one you have been working in since graduation.
2. Get to know as many of your classmates and professors as you reasonably can.
Law is a “people” business. Connections are extremely important. No matter how brilliant a legal thinker you may be, it’s hard to get ahead as a lawyer purely by working alone at your desk. Many of your law school classmates could turn out to be useful connections down the road….
This is one front on which I didn’t do very well when I was in law school, myself. Nonetheless, I am still going to suggest you do as I say, not as I actually did. You will be better off if you learn from my mistake than if you repeat it.
3. Think about whether what you plan to do is right and just.
Law presents more serious moral dilemmas than many other professions. What lawyers do can often cost innocent people their liberty, their property, or even their lives. It can also save all three. Lawyers have played key roles in almost every major advance for liberty and justice in American history, including the establishment of the Constitution, the antislavery movement, the civil rights movement and many others. But they have also been among the major perpetrators of nearly every great injustice in our history, as well….
Law school is the right time to start working to ensure that the career you pursue is at least morally defensible. You don’t necessarily have a moral obligation to devote your career to doing good. But you should at least avoid exacerbating evil. And it’s easier to do that if you think carefully about the issues involved now (when you still have a wide range of options), than if you wait until you are already enmeshed in a job that involves perpetrating injustice…..