Richard McAdams Addresses First Year Class

Remarks for the Entering Students Dinner
Richard McAdams
Law School Office of Communications
September 24, 2009

Thank you Saul, for that kind introduction. Thank you for inviting me to address the entering class at this opening dinner.

Although I have been teaching for a considerable time, this is only my third year at the University of Chicago. So all of you are newcomers; I am a relative newcomer. One of the special things about the place that I first observed was this tradition of this entering student dinner. Which I rather like.

Of course, the JD students will reconvene here again in approximately 32 months for your third year dinner, a few days before you graduate. We will even convene, somewhere else, for a mid-way dinner half-way through your second year.

But I get ahead of myself. Tonight, on behalf of the faculty, I warmly welcome the LLM students and the class of 2012 to the University of Chicago Law School. We welcome you from all over the nation and around the world, and a few from our own back yard of Chicago, to your new home as you complete what will for most of you be the final years of your formal education, what we hope will be your very best and most intellectually engaging years.

We welcome those LLMs who are already lawyers, and those JD students who have held the life-long dream of being a lawyer, and those of you who, like myself, weren’t exactly sure what you wanted to do after college. I find it exciting to be here with you at the beginning of your legal studies, the first steps in what will probably be your life’s work, and no doubt the origin of many great and life-long friendships.

I have a compliment I must pay to all of you. A rather obscure references, but as the Grail Knight says in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” you have chosen wisely. In coming to the University of Chicago, you have obviously entered a top law school. As is true of all the elite law schools, you are surrounded by other highly gifted and motivated individuals, which is important because you will learn a lot from your peers. But the reason I say you have chosen wisely is that, among the elite law schools, the University of Chicago has the faculty that is most devoted to teaching. Now you all are, of course, astute enough to be justifiably skeptical of my making that claim, recognizing my bias, and you are right to gather the evidence yourself. I commend you for your skepticism. But I will just state my opinion that there is no top law school where the faculty is more devoted to teaching.

As part of my welcome, I would like to tell you about are some of the things I’ve learned in my first two years here, being a part of the University of Chicago and also the City of Chicago. Things that struck me as a newcomer. Some of which connect the University to the City. This so-called City of Broad Shoulders, The Windy City, The Big Onion, the home of great music, theatre, cuisine, extremely cold winters and – yes, we’ll find out next Friday – the possible site of the Summer Olympics of 2016.

As you already know, the City of Chicago is also renowned for its architecture. Many of you have read or are reading Erik Larson’s book, Devil in the White City, partly about one of the great Chicago architects: Daniel Burnham, who supervised the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, much of it here in Hyde Park. How many of you have read or started reading the book? What you probably do not know is that Burnham is equally famous in Chicago for the fact that in 1909, 100 years ago, he co-wrote “The Plan of Chicago,” one of the great documents in urban planning history, which has had a profound effect on the development of the city, and has been celebrated in Chicago all this year.

I will have more to say more about Daniel Burnham at the end of my talk. (That’s how you’ll know it’s the end of my talk).

But while we on the subject of architecture, you should know the name of another great Chicago architect of a later generation – Eero Saarinen. If you do crossword puzzles you have undoubtedly run across his name (and that of his father’s). Eero Saarinen designed the Midway Arch in St. Louis, airport terminals at Dulles and JFK, and various university buildings, including at Brandeis, Michigan, MIT, Yale, and, yes, the University of Chicago.

Among other things, he designed this very building that we are dining in tonight. While the City of Chicago is celebrating the 100th year of Burnham’s Plan of Chicago, we are celebrating this building’s 50th year. Over the summer, we removed the time capsule from the building’s cornerstone, just outside this corner, by the bicycle racks. And next Friday – a week from tomorrow – we will reveal the contents of the time capsule, which I am told included items not only from 1959, but also from 1903, taken from the cornerstone of the prior building to house the law school. And then we are going to fill a time capsule ourselves to re-insert in the building to be opened up another 50 years hence – 2059.

By the way, Saarinen not only designed the building, he also designed the large red chairs you see in certain areas of the library. I want to tell you the name of those chairs. They are called “womb chairs” so hopefully you’ll feel very safe and happy if you study in one. Most likely you’ll fall asleep.
Moving from architecture, as a relative newcomer, the second thing I’ve discovered is that some extremely interesting people have passed through this 50-year old building and the prior locations of this law school.

I learned that our alumni include three Attorneys General of the United States: Ramsey Clark under President Johnson, Edward Levi under President Ford, and John Ashcroft under President George W. Bush. That’s a pretty interesting political range.

We also see that range in the pair of our alums who became US senators, John Ashcroft and Carol Moseley Braun.

We see it again in the pair of Robert Bork and Abner Mikva, who graduated in consecutive classes. Bork in 1950; he served in Republican administrations as an Acting Attorney General and Solicitor General, and for 6 years was a federal judge.

A year later, Ab Mikva graduated. He served 8 years as a Democrat in Congress representing a district that included Hyde Park, 15 years as a federal judge, and 2 years as White House counsel.
I learned that Earl Dickerson is our first African-American graduate. His photo is in the main hall across from room 5. That photo will mean a bit more if you know some of his story. Dickerson was born in 1891 in Canton, Mississippi, the grandson of slaves. At the age of 15, his mother put him on a train as a stowaway to Chicago, where he began high school at the Lab Schools. After graduating from the University of Illinois, he started law school here in 1915. He did extremely well. I believe federal privacy law does not prohibit me from telling you that he earned an 86 in contracts, the highest grade in the class, a grade that corresponds to a 186 today, which you will learn is a rare achievement. When the US entered World War I in 1917, Dickerson volunteered for military service in our segregated army and served in France, where his French fluency allowed him to work as an interpreter. He returned to the law school in the spring of 1919, a period of great racial tension and violence in America and Chicago.

Indeed, given the risks he faced walking many blocks to school, and I should emphasize quite unlike law students today, not to mention contrary to contemporary law of Chicago, which we take very seriously, Dickerson carried his service revolver under his coat while attending classes after the war. After graduating he was one of the founders of the American Legion, became one of the first African-American alderman in the City of Chicago, and was a leading lawyer of the city for many decades, most famously arguing and winning the 1939 Supreme Court case of Hansberry v. Lee, part of a challenge to racially restrictive covenants here in Hyde Park. Oddly, given that there is a biography published on Earle Dickerson, I discovered that there is no wikipedia entry on him, which whatever you think of Wikipedia, seems an omission that someone should correct.

I do not wish to imply, by the way, that all our accomplished graduates are or were politicians. Studs Terkel, for example, became a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and writer. And I should mention Sophonisba Breckinridge, our first female graduate. Breckinridge came from a wealthy Kentucky family. Her grandfather had been the US Attorney General under President . . . Thomas Jefferson. Her father was a Colonel in the confederate army.

Breckinridge graduated from Wellesley College and then became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1901, in political science. After getting her law degree here in 1904, she lived in Jane Addams’ Hull House – a Chicago story I leave for to you to discover – and became a Professor and then the -Dean of the School of Civics and Philanthropy, today known as the School of Social Service Administration. She published seven books and many articles, mostly in sociology journals, though I would guess that she is the first of our graduates to publish in the Journal of Political Economy, which she did on eight occasions. At the same time she worked as a Chicago city health inspector, a probation officer for the Juvenile Court, as a member of the NAACP, and as a secretary of the Immigrants' Protective League. You will see her photo out in the hall next to Earl Dickerson’s.

And then there is one more alum I will mention, Daniel Greenberg, a successful businessman, currently the chair of the board of trustees of Reed College. Which leads me to my third and final topic, something else I think the newcomer should know about: the Greenberg Seminar.

Greenberg gave money to found the seminar series that bears his name, something he hoped would bring back the kind of student-faculty interaction that occurred decades ago when Professors Karl Llewelyn and Soia Mentschikoff’s hosted dinners for students. Now I almost hesitate to tell you about the Greenbergs because they’re so cool, but JD students can’t actually take one in their first year. But it is good to have something to look forward to. The format is that at least two professors teach the seminar, with five meetings, that take place at a professor’s home, at least the last of which includes dinner.

Of course, if Professors Baird and Ben-Shahar are still teaching their “Food Law” Greenberg, and you are lucky enough to get in, they are likely to cook for you at each meeting. Or if you take the “Law and Shakespeare” Greenberg, with Professors Nussbaum and Posner, at your last meeting, you will probably read through a play. (And I don’t mean a quiet reading alone in the corner, but a dramatic reading of a role in the play). And to continue the theme of connections to the City of Chicago, let me mention that I will teach a Greenberg Seminar this year with Professor Masur on the topic of “Crime in the City of Big Shoulders.”

Now speaking about crime is not traditionally one of the responsibilities of the speaker at the entering student dinner. I believe it is possible that Dean Levmore is eyeing me suspiciously for bringing up the subject, but I’m not going to look over to find out. Yes, Chicago has a fascinating and rich criminal history and I’m not just speaking about our politicians. For example, Prof. Masur and I are assigning a book “For the Thrill of It,” about the first crime in the US to be called the “crime of the century,” a murder committed by Leopold and Loeb just a few blocks north of here.
Indeed, you are so astute that some of you are already thinking that I was not completely evenhanded and forthcoming in my laudatory description of our alums because I did not mention that the famous criminal Nathan Leopold was attending this law school when he committed the murder with Loeb in 1924. Perhaps you think I was slanting the evidence to present a positive image of our alums. That’s very good. Again, I very much admire your skepticism. I will only offer the legalistic defense that I was only talking of our alums and we had the good sense never to give Leopold a degree.

Now I said I would return to the subject of Daniel Burnham at the end of my talk, and we are now here. I am a professor, so let me conclude this discussion with a pop quiz. Although unlike classroom questions or exams, I promise a tangible prize for someone who can answer this question. Raise your hand if you think you know the answer; shouting it out will just let other people get the reward. The prize has two parts: a one-year membership in the Chicago Architecture Foundation AND this t-shirt bearing Burnham’s likeness. I assume none of you already have a t-shirt with the likeness of a balding and mustachioed gentleman from the 19th century. So Here’s the question about Daniel Burnham: In what state did Daniel Burnham run for the state legislature? (Hint: gold rush in 1869).

Yes, Burnham bolted Chicago in 1869 to pan for gold in Nevada. He failed to find gold, failed to get elected, and when he returned to Chicago, he failed at selling plate glass. But then he went on to become one of the greatest architects of his generation. So I think of Burnham as a classical Chicago figure and an inspiration.

And though I give the t-shirt only to one of you, I want to offer to all of you the statement on the other side of the t-shirt, an adage of Burnham’s that seems quite appropriate for the beginning of your law school career. “Make no little plans.” So I say to LLMs and to the class of 2012 at the outset of your legal studies: “Be skeptical, but make no little plans.” Thank you.

Richard H. McAdams