January 29 , 2007
by helen anne richards
Dean David Partlett knew Emory Law School was good when he arrived on campus, but he’s convinced that with the right people and programs, it can become the best.
“You can’t have a great law school without a great faculty,” he said. “And a great faculty brings in the best students. We’ll build on our existing strengths and look for opportunities that we haven’t tapped.”
Initially, the Law School plans to increase its faculty from 46 to 57, which will result in a faculty/student ratio of about 10 to one. The school’s strategic plan calls for the creation of several new endowed faculty chairs, which Partlett believes will allow the school to recruit in the top echelon of law faculty. By strengthening the faculty, he said, the law school will be able to attract the brightest students.
The Law School also plans to create several high-level research centers, modeled on the centers already operating in the school such as the Feminism and Legal Theory Project and the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. The centers would encourage the creation of new legal and social knowledge.
Martha Fineman, a Robert W. Woodruff professor at the Law School and director of the FLT Project, said that research centers can spark new scholarship simply by hosting workshops and conferences. “When scholars gather around certain issues, they create an incredible energy,” Fineman said.
The interaction can inspire new connections, taking research into new areas or suggesting new approaches, she said. “You might get a new perspective from younger scholars or international scholars or interdisciplinary work.”
John Witte, the Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics and director of the CSLR, said the law and religion center’s work is concerned with “faith, freedom and the family – the three things people will die for.” And Witte believes that the complexity of the issues the center explores requires research that intentionally crosses disciplinary boundaries.
In fact, he said, the six dozen CSLR projects completed to date have already connected the law school to 80 Emory faculty in more than 20 disciplines. Future work on law, religion and science themes might well involve participation by both religion and science, and collaboration with a new center for health, law and policy will involve research with the health sciences.
Interdisciplinary work, however, will not be confined to post-graduate work in research centers. Fineman, for example, will launch an oral history and law project this spring. Students will conduct interviews with law school graduates about the integration of Emory Law School in the 1960s during the tenure of Dean Ben Johnson. Their work will be added to a larger University project about race at Emory. Topics for other existing and proposed interdisciplinary courses include one with Goizueta about structuring mergers and acquisitions, another about law, religion and sociobiology, and new five-year projects just under way on the pursuit of happiness, law, religion and human rights, and law, religion and the Protestant tradition.
Witte said that to have material published at CSLR, it must contain highly reasoned and innovative answers to old questions or it must ask new questions. If the dean has anything to say about it, Emory Law School will provide the best atmosphere to find the answers.