Find Events Find People Find Jobs Find Sites Find Help Index


November 12, 2001

The challenge is accepted

By Eric Rangus


As is customary, the University Senate’s first meeting of year allows the new president to introduce himself or herself, as well as outline the Senate’s goals for the next two semesters.

The Sept. 25 meeting was no different. It was there that Frank Vandall took the helm. The first member of the law school faculty to serve as Senate president (as well as chair of the Faculty Council), Vandall, a full professor, wasted no time in sketching out what he hopes to accomplish during his term, which covers the group’s 50th year on campus.

Vandall said he wants the Senate to anticipate problems and deal with them before they reach a crisis point. The theme for this year’s effort is “Accepting the Challenge” of active faculty governance.
“The faculty, staff and students are enormously important components of the University, and their concerns should be aired and dealt with,” Vandall said.

One of the ways Vandall hopes to respond to the challenge is through the work of two ad-hoc Faculty Council committees he created: tenure policy and budget advisory. The committees’ areas of responsibility are pretty self-explanatory, but they address two areas (tenure and budget interpretation) that had not received much notice in previous councils.

The University Senate and Faculty Council have subtle differences in their constituencies (the council serves as a faculty voice to the administration, while the more all-encompassing Senate includes staff and students), but similar responsibilities in that they serve as entities through which individuals or groups can communicate with Emory’s administration.

“One of the most important things an individual gains from being involved in University governance, such as membership on the Faculty Council or the Senate, is to meet with and get to know faculty from across the University,” Vandall said. “The law school has traditionally been isolated from the campus itself. It is possible to go an entire year without crossing onto the main campus. So, many faculty in the law school are unaware of how truly impressive the faculty members are from the rest of campus.”

And dealing with the varied concerns of so many diverse groups requires a great deal of diplomacy.

“You have to be sensitive to the interests of your constituents,” Vandall said. It also requires a great deal of time. Vandall estimated that about half his time this year has been spent on Senate and council concerns.

Vandall has been on the law school faculty for 31 years. Much of his most recent research has been in the area of tobacco litigation—something that interests a lot of lawyers and law professors now, but an area largely ignored when Vandall began researching it in the early 1990s. At that point, tobacco companies had never lost a court case and had an air of invincibility. It was a bubble of protection Vandall sought to break.

“I reflected upon what seemed to be one of the most injurious acts in society, one that had escaped responsibility,” Vandall said. “After a little bit of reflection, it became clear that the tobacco companies were singularly the largest activity causing an epidemic of disease and injury, and they weren’t being held responsible for what they were doing. My thought was to see if there was some way to take our legal system and apply it to the cigarette manufacturers.”

An expert in products liability and torts, Vandall’s 1994 article, “Suits by Public Hospitals to Recover Expenditures for the Treatment of Disease, Injury and Disability Caused by Tobacco and Alcohol,” was one of the first to show how tobacco companies could be held liable for damages.

Vandall’s work revealed a chink in Big Tobacco’s armor, one anti-tobacco lawyers pounced on. That effort eventually led to the $206 billion settlement in 1997; the money was distributed to the states to cover health care costs related to smoking and led to a curtaining of cigarette advertising, specifically to minors.

Coincidentally, one of the first issues addressed by the University Senate this year is the question of whether Emory should become a smoke-free campus. Raised by the Employee Council in October, the issue touched off an energetic debate at that month’s Senate meeting. The discussion will come up again in November or later.

Proposals range from a completely smoke-free campus to a smoke-free barrier in front of building entrances to designated smoking shelters outside buildings (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a similar plan) to no changes in smoking policy at all.

“Anyone who does research with tobacco, be they in the legal sector or the medical sector, soon realizes that tobacco is enormously destructive of individual health, as well as the family,” Vandall said. “The issue being raised by the staff is that they are concerned about secondhand smoke and feel, as employees of Emory, they should not have to breathe a toxic, cancer-causing substance.”

Vandall said the November meeting will feature input from students and hospital personnel, adding that a plan as drastic as eliminating smoking from campus completely would be a difficult one to implement.

“We’ll try and see what’s feasible,” Vandall said.

The ongoing smoking debate is just one of the ways Vandall’s vision of a proactive University governance system has begun to display itself.

“I hope that by the end of the [academic] year we will have shifted from sitting back and waiting to hear from the administration to working closely with the administration on important questions such as budget and academic direction, so that faculty and staff can have a greater voice in University governance,” he said.

Off campus, one of Vandall’s main hobbies is sailing, and several pictures of sailboats are scattered throughout his office in Gambrell Hall. He owns three sailboats, one he keeps at a lake home in western Maryland, a second in his driveway and a third on Lake Lanier. He sails all of them competitively, sometimes joined by his wife Sheila.

“Sailing looks to be a very relaxing activity, but it is actually very demanding mentally as well as physically,” Vandall said. “You are never sitting still, and you are never allowed to daydream.”

Vandall competes with the Lake Lanier Sailing Club, and in 2000 he won both the spring and fall series races in the MC class (an MC is a 16-foot, single-sail scow). He also was the fleet champion in a Flying Scot at Deep Creek, Md.

Back on dry land at Emory, the 2001–02 academic year could prove to be interesting to Vandall in ways beyond the Senate and Faculty Council. His son Josh, a third-year law student at Emory, will graduate in May (Vandall also has a 28-year-old daughter, Megan; Josh is 25). Vandall has yet to teach him, but he said Josh has “threatened” to take a course with him in the spring on products liability.

Asked what he thought of the possibility of teaching his son, Vandall considered his answer for just a moment and smiled.

“I’m looking forward to the experience,”he answered.


Back to Emory Report November 12, 2001