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One of the toughest things about being a law school dean could be convincing your professors to change with the times. At a workshop during the annual meeting last week of the Association of American Law Schools in San Francisco, John Dwyer, the moderator and dean at Boalt Hall School of Law, led a discussion on how globalization is affecting America’s law schools. But the conversation kept turning to how to bring a potentially unreceptive faculty on board to curricula changes. Former law school dean Barbara Aldave told the conference she turned down the tenure of a few professors after they refused to step in line. She said the professors fired back with lawsuits. Now a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, Aldave’s experience as a dean at St. Mary’s University School of Law was just one example of the frustrations panel members faced in urging their faculty to incorporate international principles into their course work. John Sexton took less extreme measures, but spoke of his experience with somewhat harsher language. His challenge lay in motivating professors — accustomed to doing as they please — to respond to students’ changing demands. “We have been the most self-indulgent, irresponsible group of folks that I’ve encountered in my 40 years in education,” said Sexton, dean at New York University School of Law. He’s seen “nothing that comes close to the passivity of being a law professor.” An estimated 4,000 professors from around the country descended on the Hilton San Francisco for the association’s meeting. The professors schmoozed to their academic hearts’ content and went to one panel discussion after another to get the inside scoop on what their peers are up to and exchange ideas to take home and improve their own schools. “It’s not just to talk — you learn of ideas but then you go back to your school and start talking to your own colleagues about it and then maybe some changes come about,” said Mary Kay Kane, the dean of Hastings College of the Law, who was scheduled to be inaugurated as the new president of the AALS on Saturday. “We’re trying to decide, ‘Are we being relevant in what we’re teaching for what’s needed out there, for what our graduates need?’ We learn from each other.” Kane said she has gone to every AALS conference since she started teaching in 1974. Themed “Pursuing Equal Justice: Law Schools and the Provision of Legal Services,” the conference included panels on topics as wide-ranging as criminal justice and poverty law to “Social Norms in Religious Communities” and “Treading the Waters: Public Interest Values — Law Schools and Beyond.”

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