Mini-seminars, maxi-fun

Sometime in the last five years or so (yes, I am too lazy to go look up the exact date), the Law School instituted a program of “mini-seminars.” For one ungraded credit, students meet in a small group a few times over the course of the semester, for about two hours. The seminars are typically held in a professor’s home (or perhaps, for the relatively few professors who live farther than walking distance, at a café or restaurant), and with the social-lubrication assistance of free food, penetrating and insightful conversations are held about various topics, some of which are categorizable as “law-related” only if you understand that term in an incredibly broad way. Sort of like how you have to understand the term “hats” in the sentence, “Lady Gaga wears hats.”

My thorough research, which involved laboriously e-mailing one student whose name was at the top of the alpha-ordered list of people who took mini-seminars last year, suggests that students love the experience. My guinea pig took Rich Friedman‘s seminar on Sports and the Law (a subject on which Friedman is exemplarily well-qualified, having literally made a federal case over the issue of whether high school girls’ tennis would be held in the spring or the fall), and says it “was the highlight of week.” He loved the topic, but says the opportunity to get to know 11 classmates and Professor Friedman in the context of Friedman’s living room made the event a particularly “great experience” that he hopes to repeat before graduating. And because he is a student, he went out of his way to mention how much he liked the free food.

Personally, I love watching from the sidelines the annual ritual of figuring out who will be teaching what. First, the associate dean sends out an e-mail describing the program and asking anyone who is interested to submit a proposal. (This year’s e-mail included, for elucidation of the concept, the hypothetical seminar topics of “Lindsay Lohan’s Legal Troubles: An Econometric Approach” and “Fun with Writs!!” (because really, what could be more fun than a writ?).) Then follows two weeks of silence, in which I imagine all sorts of scrambling being done—imagining of topics, lassoing of colleagues to co-teach, and so forth. And finally, when I’ve just about forgotten about the whole thing, we get another e-mail, letting us know the outcome.

This year’s announcement did not disappoint. On offer will be:

Fall

Clark, Odysseus, Socrates, Jesus, Hamlet, Ishmael, and the Law Carr/Sankaran, When Broken Systems Collide: Immigration, Child Welfare and the Best Interests of the Children Hershovitz, Baseball and Law Rine, Disorderly Persons

Winter

Appleberry, Animal Law Davis, Main Street vs. Wall Street: Punish the Bankers? McCormack/Moran, Wrongful Convictions in Film Pottow, Fun with Writs!! (NB: Way to game the system, by flatteringly adopting the associate dean’s absurdity)

Year-Round

Bromberg, Great Composers and the Law Horwitz/Parson, Law and Governance in Speculative Visions of Future Societies Radin, 10 Worst Supreme Court Decisions of All Time Seinfeld, Miller

If that last entry seems incomplete, the associate dean anticipated the confusion, and specified: “There is no typo in the last entry.” In other words: yes, this is a seminar by one faculty member about another faculty member. I think you know you’ve really arrived, academically speaking, when your colleagues start devoting year-long seminars to you. Now, those of us who have taken classes from Miller might have thought that this was just going to be a discussion of all his fairly fascinating personal tics and neuroses, but of course, upon reflection, we’d realize that those have already been amply covered—occasionally to an alarming degree—in his considerable written oeuvre. Turns out this is going to be more like a book club structure. An Oprah-style situation, if Oprah were suddenly to develop some really surprising tastes.

But even without the allure of an in-depth consideration of Miller’s psyche, this class promises to be popular.  So far I’ve heard from one alum who evinced an intention to quit his job in order to return to Ann Arbor for this class, but I reminded him that only actual students could register for it.  (Mind you, I plan to bribe the registrar to alter my records so I appear to be a student, but I can’t possibly afford two such transactions.)

-Dean Z. Assistant Dean for Admissions and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies