For law school admissions officers, fall is the season for recruiting travel. The tradition of standing behind a table, elbow-to-elbow with representatives from other law schools in order to be face-to-face with prospective applicants remains solid and intact, coexisting happily alongside Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. This fall, for example, I have seven trips planned between September 15 and November 5, in order to attend 28 recruiting events. (I do not, mind you, have a Facebook page or a Twitter feed.)
Prior to working in admissions, though, I wasn’t much of a traveler; the first time I flew on a plane was the summer I turned 21, and I was still green as could be when, a decade and a half later, I took on this job. Ryan Bingham I was not. Accordingly, 10 years ago, I was anticipating my inaugural fall admissions recruiting season with the trepidation of inexperience. My first scheduled trip? Flying to LaGuardia on September 13, to attend the Law School Admission Council-hosted annual forum at the World Trade Center. Obviously, plans were changed.
Once air travel resumed after 9/11, my first actual trip turned out to be to the tiny and presumably low-stress Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport in upstate New York, from which I would visit the law fairs at Cornell University and Ithaca College. I arrived at Detroit Metro airport early—like, many hours early. When I checked in for my flight, the attendant told me that the previous flight to Ithaca was running late and had still not departed and as a consequence, my intended flight wasn’t going to be leaving anywhere close to on time. I could get on the earlier flight, she told me, but I would have to carry on my bag because there was no time to check it.
I had two concerns about that plan, which I silently grappled with while staring, probably agape, at the helpful airline employee. Concern one was largely unformed anxiety: As a total novice, the idea of any impromptu change of plans struck me as inherently hazardous. My instinct was to stick with the original plan, never mind that it would mean a heinous delay. That concern was pretty promptly dispatched; even in my travel-addled state, I could recognize it as, in a word, stupid.
Concern two, however, involved visions of arrest and prison time and scandal and shame. You see, one of the pre-9/11 accoutrements of every admissions traveler was . . . a box cutter. Ship your securely-taped recruiting materials to events in advance of your arrival, and a quick slice with the box cutter puts you in business. But post-9/11, “box cutter” became heavily laden with meaning, all of it bad. And certainly, one did not want to talk about box cutters in an airport. Which is why I could not figure out how to explain to the very nice person attempting to help me at the airline counter that while I was perfectly willing to carry my small bag on board the plane, I should probably first take out the BOX CUTTER it contained. I had some dim notion that the result of saying anything would be immediate arrest, perhaps with a preliminary beating by security officers thrown in. (Honestly, it was a very tense period.) So what did I do instead of making a full disclosure? Grasped denial, with both hands. OK, I told her. Let’s do that. Let’s put me on that earlier flight.
The flaw in that plan started to loom a little larger as I walked toward security. I deduced that the likelihood of getting found out was about to increase exponentially, when I interacted with the people with the metal detectors and X-ray machines. Now, I’m about as experienced with criminality as I was at the time experienced with travel, and having started down this path of malfeasance, I simply could not quickly reason my way out of it. Should I confess immediately? Should I brazen it out, preparing to play dumb if caught? And would they believe that I was the one person in the nation who was unaware of the problem with box cutters??
Before I could reach a decision, I was at security, and then, voilá, past security, unscathed. Frankly, the lack of detection did not bring with it any stress relief, since it pretty clearly illuminated that our national security system had not yet gotten completely on top of our newly discovered threats in the previous 10 or so days. But! At least I didn’t get beaten.
I still feel guilty about my panic- and ignorance-induced foray into crime. I think I paid for it karmically, though, because for the next two travel seasons, I pretty much never went on a single trip without getting patted down quite thoroughly. But here’s the good news: That first time was also the last time I took a box cutter with me. Turns out car keys do the tape-cutting job effectively, too.
-Dean Z. Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions, Financial Aid, and Career Planning