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"I tell my students, 'I don't care what you think, but think something. Too often students get into the habit of regurgitating what professors want to hear. What I am much more interested in is the position, the craft of 'lawyer-ing' -- forcing them to make an argument, no matter what side it is on." -- Prof. Richard Albert

Right Where He Wants to Be

Richard Albert always knew he'd be a law professor, and it shows
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By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
Published: March 4, 2010
In a recent discussion with one of his colleagues, Law School Assistant Professor Richard Albert summed up his thoughts on his job: "Don't tell the IRS we make a living doing this. They'd be sure to shut us down."

To say that Albert is enthusiastic about his work is putting it very mildly. The first-year faculty member and constitutional law expert, a prolific writer and scholar, can always be found in his office -- even on days off -- checking emails, chatting with students or penning an article. He's visible at student-organized events, including debates and campus speakers.

"This doesn't feel like work to me," he said.

Albert knew from an early age that he wanted to pursue a career in higher education. Raised by a single mother who traveled from Canada to Haiti, hard work and adaptability became part of his makeup. His first book, a text on the theory of democratic revolution scheduled to come out in the near future, is dedicated to his mom, Yvette Depestre.

"My mother raised my sister and me while working full-time as a nurse. She always made sure that we had the things we needed and were surrounded by loving people," said Albert, adding that his participation in a Presbyterian church fostered a strong sense of family and community.

Today, Albert borrows from his professional experiences -- as a clerk in the Canadian Supreme Court and representing Fortune 500 companies as a corporate attorney for the international law firm of Shadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP -- to inform his opinions in the classroom and in the media. He is regularly published in editorials across the country, including The Huffington Post and Politico.com, and has been tapped by political figures and candidates for policy advice.

"Richard Albert is a superb young scholar who is interested in democratic theory and comparative constitutional law," says BC Law Dean John Garvey. "He has added a wonderful level of intelligence and energy to our faculty."

Whether in his classroom or on the opinion pages, Albert says he is most passionate about inviting debate about the most pressing legal issues of our time.

"I tell my students, 'I don't care what you think, but think something," said Albert. "Too often students get into the habit of regurgitating what professors want to hear. What I am much more interested in is the position, the craft of 'lawyer-ing' -- forcing them to make an argument, no matter what side it is on.

"Constitutional law is a battle of ideas, an ongoing, evolving battle over meaning," said Albert.

In addition to rich class discussion, Albert provides meaningful experiences for his students. This semester he has organized six federal court judges to participate in a roundtable format. A handful of students -- between 15 and 18 -- sit with the judge and ask questions about their life and career.

"It's not everyday that students get to interact with a federal judge, someone who writes the opinions we're reading about in my course," said Albert. "I feel the roundtable demystifies, humanizes and personalizes the judges. It brings law closer to the students and shows the great responsibility they are taking on as lawyers."

Beyond his work at the Law School, Albert also dedicates himself to a number of nonprofit organizations, volunteering time with the Special Olympics, YMCA-YWCA, the Black Achievers Program and the League of Women Voters.

"Part of our role in a community is to give back what we can," said Albert. 

Albert attended Yale University as an undergraduate, playing football and track and field. In addition to his demanding athletics schedule, he helped pay for his tuition as a dishwasher for Yale Dining Services and as a tutor in the Yale College Tutoring Program.

"Yale is a wonderful place. It's where I started to learn about myself and what helped shape what were to be my convictions and beliefs," said Albert, who went on to earn graduate degrees at Harvard and Oxford universities. "I was surrounded by interesting people, supportive faculty and opportunities for leadership.

"It was tough working my way through school, but I believe it helped me to learn how to be so productive," said Albert.

As an undergrad, political science piqued his interest, and soon, Albert switched from a track in pre-med to pre-law. He continued his graduate studies at Yale, where he became the senior editor of the Yale Law Journal, Yale Journal on Regulation and the Yale Law & Policy Review. He also worked as editor of the Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal and the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities.

"I always knew that I wanted to be a law professor at some point in my career," explains Albert. "The role of editor allowed me to directly interact with scholars. After a work is accepted for publication, the process of editorial review begins. You have the opportunity to help shape and improve scholarship...it is truly an interactive process."

Albert said the experience proved critical in refining his area of expertise: constitutional law, democratic theory and comparative constitutional law.

Despite his hectic pace, Albert said he never loses sight of what drove him to the profession in the first place: the students.

"I have great students. They are what make teaching so fulfilling," said Albert. "I find the students at Boston College to be engaged, curious, inquisitive, challenging and demanding. It all makes me a better professor and scholar."