Balancing the Values that Make Us Uniquely American with the Need to Protect Ourselves from Terrorism

As Dean, I have always viewed it as my role to remain as politically neutral as possible. Regardless of what party is in power, I will always stand for the Constitution and the values it represents. This country has been very good to me: I don’t think that there are so many countries in the world where the daughter of parents who were not college graduates and the granddaughter of immigrants (on my mother’s side) could become the dean of a top-tier law school. While it has never been perfect, through the great arc of history, it has always felt like we were moving toward fuller realization of our constitutional vision.

After September 11, 2001, we became painfully aware of an irony—the very freedoms that we take for granted like the freedom to travel and the relative openness of our borders can be used against us in the most heinous ways. Particularly since that time, we have been struggling to balance the values that make us uniquely American with the need to protect ourselves from terrorism. I have no doubt about two things: (1) that the President of the United States, regardless of party, views keeping the nation secure as an extraordinarily high (if not the highest) priority; and (2)  if any one of us were to see the daily threat matrix put together by the intelligence agencies, our hair would very quickly turn gray.

With all that said, though, I have to ask, if we betray our fundamental values in the name of safety, in the end, what will we have gained? How do we know when we have gone too far?


Google’s search page on Monday, January 30, 2017 featured Fred Korematsu.

Last Friday’s Executive Order concerned me for many reasons. Suffice it to say that regardless of whether the President has the power to make such changes in this way, it struck me as new policy that disregards the lessons of history in a potentially very dangerous way. There is a reason that Google today has Fred Korematsu on its front search page. Enough said for now.

There are certainly lessons here for lawyers. The one that springs to my mind is to think before you act and also think before you react. Get the facts. Consider the ramifications of your actions before you take them. Then re-think. This is particularly important if you ever have the chance to act on an international stage. There’s an old saying, “America sneezes, and the world catches a cold.” In my most recent international trip in October, when I visited alumni, they had two comments that I found quite interesting, both of which were expressed matter-of-factly, not with a partisan hue. The first was, “When was America not great?” and the second was, “You always under-estimate how much the rest of the world depends on a stable United States.”

Jack Beermann, Gary Lawson, Jay Wexler, and Karen Pita Loor spoke at the Faculty Insights on the Trump Administration event last week.

Jack Beermann, Gary Lawson, Jay Wexler, and Karen Pita Loor spoke at the Faculty Insights on the Trump Administration event last week.

We will continue to announce various panels (like the one we held last Friday) that will address some of the legal aspects of both this and other controversies. For many of you that will seem like not enough; for others, too much. In the meantime, maybe think back to your own experience with immigration. Unless you are a Native American, there are immigrants in your family. What are their stories?

My maternal grandmother came to the United States from Austria-Hungary (now Slovenia) around the time of World War I. I don’t know if she’d be considered a refugee under today’s standards. I do know that it took 2–3 months to arrive here and most of that time was spent in steerage. It was also a time when you had to have a job lined up and a sponsor before you could enter the US. Her uncle in Bridgeport, CT was her sponsor. When she arrived, she knew three English words—“coffee” and “apple pie.” She taught herself English from the newspaper. Eventually, she moved to Poughkeepsie where she worked in a button factory. She had three children, one of whom died around the age of 3. My mother and my uncle—who served in the United States Navy in World War II—spent their lives making sure their children had more opportunities than they did. When my grandmother died at the age of 92, she still spoke English with an accent. I’ve mourned my mom for the last year but I know whenever I look in the mirror, I see her and my grandmother, and I wish I had their strength and courage. I like to think it added something to our country.

These issues are not simple. They never are. But remember what I told you at orientation, “The law is a noble profession.” You will have the ability to help us come closer to our constitutional vision. Never forget that and never stop believing that a democratic system of checks and balances can work. You will have the opportunity to see that it does.

Paying Tribute to Our Active Military and Veterans

Next week will be an important week for our country as we elect a new President of the United States. While Election Day looms large, I encourage us to reflect on what follows three days later—Veterans Day. At BU Law, we support our students who are veterans through the Yellow Ribbon Program, and educate law students preparing to enter the service as military lawyers.

Billy Wilson ('18)

Billy Wilson (’18)

Among our current students are veterans Billy Wilson (’18) and Kenneth Meador (’18). Billy served nine years in the Marines as a helicopter pilot who flew missions in Afghanistan and the South Pacific. As a 2L student, he is active in the BU Veterans Association, as well as the International Law Society, Legal Follies, and Older Wiser Law Students (OWLS).

Kenneth enlisted in the US Army in 2002 and served three tours in Iraq as a combat medic before returning home to Oklahoma to attend college on the GI Bill. After his first year at BU Law, he earned a prestigious Rappaport Fellowship, which enabled him to complete a summer internship at the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services.

Kenneth Meador ('18)

Kenneth Meador (’18)

Many of our alumni have served our country, and we have been honored to recognize several of them with Silver Shingle Awards: US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert P. Chatham (’99), US Navy Lieutenant Commander Jacob Romelhardt (’05), and US Army Reserve Major General (ret.) Stephen D. Tom (’74).

Lt. Colonel Chatham is the staff judge advocate for the19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. In his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, he earned the Bronze Star for his work with the Afghan Ministry of Justice, Attorney General, and Supreme Court, as well as the US Embassy, United Nations, and European Union, to rebuild the rule of law in that war-torn country.

Jacob Romelhardt (’05)

US Navy Lieutenant Commander Jacob Romelhardt (’05)

Lt. Commander Romelhardt is the staff judge advocate for a major naval operation in San Diego, where he trains aircraft carrier strike groups in international law and rules of engagement. During his 11-year naval career, he has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, taught at the US Naval Academy, and served as criminal defense counsel in military court.

While on active duty, Major General Tom (ret.) was stationed with the US Pacific Command in Honolulu, where he served as commander of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a US Defense Department joint task force with the mission of accounting for Americans listed as prisoners of war or missing in action from past wars and conflicts.

We are honored that BU Law has educated both former and past members of the military. And we say thank you to all veterans for their service to our country.

Eight Judges in Two Weeks. What a Way to Start the School Year!

It has been a busy September with many distinguished members of the judiciary paying a visit to BU Law. We have been privileged to welcome eight judges to the law school in just the past two weeks.

Dean O'Rourke with Army JAG Judges

Lt. Col. Wolfe, Col. Mulligan, Dean O’Rourke, and Col. Febbo

Individual justices have joined us for book talks, a major conference, and meetings with our students, while the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals held an actual hearing in our Schell-O’Connor Moot Courtroom. Presiding over the case of United States v. Bostick were Colonel Michael Mulligan, Colonel Anthony Febbo, and Lieutentant Colonel Stefan Wolfe. After the hearing, the justices held a Q&A with our students and spoke with them during a reception in Barristers Hall.

US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge Robert L. Wilkins, who was instrumental in the effort to build the National Museum of African American History and Culture, spoke at BU Law just a few days before the September 24 opening of the museum on the National Mall. He recounted the century-long endeavor to establish the museum and his motivation for writing his book, The Long Road to Hard Truth: The 100-Year Mission to Establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Prior to Judge Wilkins’ talk, Justice Robert J. Cordy, a recently retired member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, talked about his international work with judges in Russia and Turkey to establish independent judiciaries in those countries. His comments came during a panel discussion of a new book by BU Law Professor Robert Sloane and Tufts University Professor Robert Glennon, Foreign Affairs Federalism: The Myth of National Exclusivity. Professor Glennon has deep ties to BU Law, having served as the William & Patricia Kleh Visiting Professor of International Law just last year.


Dean O’Rourke with Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers (’83)

We were also fortunate to host three judges who are graduates of BU Law.

Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers (’83), took time out of her busy schedule to have lunch with BU Law students in the law tower. The next day at our annual alumni awards ceremony, I was honored to present her with a Silver Shingle for Service to the Profession.

Judge Herman J. Smith, Jr. (’74) gave an invited talk at BU Law about his experience as an African-American judge and the interplay between the law and his Christian faith. He served as a Massachusetts Superior Court judge from 1994 to 2012 and a clinical associate professor at BU Law from 1979 to 1990.

And Massachusetts District Court Associate Justice Michael Vitali (’98) returned to campus for a conference honoring the 50th anniversary of the seminal Supreme Court case, Miranda v. Arizona. He joined another BU Law alum, Mark Schamel (’98), who is a trial attorney in Washington, DC, and FBI Special Agent Peter Kowenhoven for a panel discussion moderated by Connecticut Senior Assistant State Attorney Russell Zentner (’89).

To stay up to date on all of the events happening at BU Law, please check our Events Calendar.

What Does a Law School Dean Do?

People often ask me: What exactly does a law school dean do? The answer is: MANY THINGS! Here’s a slightly irreverent look at a representative day for me:

7:45 a.m. – Starbucks
Pick up a venti iced non-fat caramel macchiato topped with coffee instead of espresso.

8–9:30 a.m. – Attend the Deans’ Council meeting
Meet with the Provost and my counterparts from the other 15 schools and colleges at BU to discuss University-wide policies that affect our individual units. If I don’t have a Deans’ Council meeting, chances are I have a meeting with the leaders of the Student Government Association or a Dean’s Management Committee meeting—in which all of the associate and assistant deans and department heads at LAW gather to facilitate updates and communication across functions at the law school.

9:30–10:00 a.m. – Check email/return phone calls
Drive from the Questrom Business School where Deans’ Council meetings are held to the law school. Take some time to reply to emails and return phone calls.

10:30–10:50 am – Class preparation
Make sure that all materials are organized and ready for class.

11:00 a.m.–12:25 p.m. – Class
Teach Secured Transactions to a class of upper-level students. It’s a great topic and very useful to many students in their careers. If I don’t have class, there may be time to visit an alum downtown, hold a faculty meeting, or prepare for University meetings (usually about the budget).

12:30–1:00 p.m. – Lunch
After class, I like to grab lunch in the McCausland Commons (aka the Café) on the second floor of the Redstone building. 

1:00–2:00 p.m.
Meet with one of our many faculty committees addressing, for example, the curriculum, student life, new programs, and searches for new faculty.

2:00–3:00 p.m. – Open Office Hours for Students
Meet with students who have questions from class or other items to discuss.

3:00–4:00 p.m. – Participate in a conference call
Some part of each day is usually spent on the phone with, for example, the Executive Committee of the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar (I am chair-elect of the Council), UnitedLex (a company with which we have a contract to offer a legal residency program to new graduates), my co-authors on our Copyright in a Global Information Economy casebook.

4:00 p.m. – Starbucks. Again.
Pick up a grande mocha light frappucino to remain caffeinated.

4:15–5:30 p.m. – Check email/return phone calls

5:30–7:00 p.m. – Events
Participate in law school, University, or alumni events.

7:00 p.m. – Go home!
Drive home. Be sure to prepare for the next class and to check the calendar to see what the next day will bring. Pack, if travel is involved! (This fall, I will be traveling to Chicago, London, New Orleans/Baton Rouge, and New York for ABA meetings, lectures, and alumni visits).


A Note from Dean O’Rourke

Dear BU Law community,

In recent months, we at the law school have developed a protocol for when we send messages to the entire community. We did this because we know that students would often like to hear from us about current events but, at the same time, we are simply not equipped to be a news organization or constant commentators on current events. And we know of the danger of email fatigue: the more we email, the fewer who will read our communications. Under our new protocol, we will communicate on current events when BU or BU Law is implicated directly because a student, faculty or staff member or alum is involved, or when the event is one of such magnitude that it shocks the conscience or is a natural disaster that causes serious harm. Generally, when we do comment, it will be via the BU Law Facebook or Twitter accounts. At the same time, however, in light of the gravity of recent events and my desire to update you on a new committee at the law school, I decided an email would be appropriate.

Certainly, the shootings this week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas are events that shock the conscience and that occurred in areas in which many members of our community live and work. Unfortunately, there is little I can add to statements I have made in the past when similar events have occurred. I would ask a few things, however. First, please keep all who have lost their lives and their families in your thoughts and prayers. Second, let us not compound the tragedy by becoming immune to it. It is far too easy to lose hope when violence erupts again and again and again. It dishonors the victims and their memories if we fail to keep trying to put an end to senseless loss of life.

I’m writing also to let you know that as a result of our conversations last year, we have set up a Committee on Community & Inclusion, chaired by Professors Ron Wheeler and Laila Hlass and whose membership consists of Professors Lawson, Leonard, and Pita Loor and administrators Assistant Deans Liz Cerrato and Alissa Leonard and Associate Director for Diversity & Inclusion Brenda Hernandez. The Committee will be seeking input from students shortly after school starts again. Our goal is for BU Law to be a community in which the most controversial issues can be discussed from all sides civilly and respectfully, and in which we equip our students with the tools to make positive change. In that vein, a heartfelt thank you to all of our affinity groups and student organizations and Office of Student Affairs for all the events they held last year that did just that.

This is a hard time. And a contentious election season looms, adding to a feeling of great unease. It is the case that all great nations eventually decline, usually because internal forces break down the shared vision the society once held. We can ask whether the US is any different. It’s a difficult question especially in the heat of the moment when it feels as though society is coming apart at the seams. But I choose to believe that we can make a difference, we can be a better people and nation, and that we have to begin by thinking the best of people and treating everyone we meet with the respect and dignity their very existence demands. Out of small steps come great leaps forward and we all can make a difference.

I look forward to seeing you again soon. In the meantime, I wish us all reasons to hope and a renewed commitment to justice in our nation.