Former Alumni Association President Marty Ebel Interviews Dean Rougeau
meet the dean
Transcript of interview between Alumni President Marty Ebel and Dean Vincent Rougeau on Oct. 21, 2011 at Medica Technology Services studio, Campion Hall.
Q: How can BC Law Alumni best help the Law School?
A: There are so many things alumni can do for the Law School: serve on reunion committees, judge competitions, provide career advice and job opportunities to students. Any way in which alumni can stay involved with us institutionally and provide that kind of interaction, advice, and support is appreciated.
Q: There is a long tradition of service at BC Law. What are your plans for nurturing this?
A: Service as integral part of the mission of BC Law School; the idea of men and women for others is central to who we are. To nurture this, we are trying to direct as many resources as possible to coursework that encourages public service or a social justice orientation. There are also external opportunities that would encourage or support students who are interested in public service and social justice: internships, externships, with organizations, the opportunity to spend time in those kinds of positions during law school, in the summer, are all things we hope to continue to encourage while I’m here and beyond.
Q: There is also a long tradition of community and collegiality among alumni. We look out for one another. What ideas do you have for fostering this tradition with both the student body and alumni?
A: Identifying opportunities, for us, is really important. So, for people who work in public service, like you, letting us know how students can access opportunities is really important. It’s hard for students sometimes to realize how they get to some of these government jobs, for instance. It’s not obvious when you’re a student, because government agencies often don’t come to campus to interview and students often are told you have to do something else before you can work in government. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. We’ve learned that there are lots of interning and other opportunities in government agencies, so when alumni identify those opportunities for us, we can make sure the students know about them.
The idea of community at BC Law school is not only just an idea but an incredibly meaningful part of who we are. The word is thrown around very often in ways that don’t have a lot of substance but there’s a lot of substance to it at BC. When we talk about community, we talk about people extending themselves to one another in meaningful ways. I often say to students, you need to get to know our alumni. They’re there for you, they’re waiting to hear form you, and when you call, they respond. Encouraging the students to seek you out and, of course, on the other side, alumni being available when students do seek them out. We try to encourage as many opportunities on campus for students and alumni to meet and for alumni to maintain their connections with faulty and for faculty to learn more about what former students are doing. And that interaction creates what I would call a more meaningful understanding of community—the fact that we are engaged in relationship with one another across time, backwards and forwards, so that people can use the BC community as of way of thinking about their future, their professional lives going forward, and also remaining connected with an institution that helped to shape them.
Q: What do you see as BC Law’s three or four greatest strengths, and how will you leverage those to elevate the school and it’s reputation?
A: The first real strength is the extraordinary academic quality of our program. Our academic strengths are manifested in all kinds of ways: in what the faulty do, in what is going on in the classroom, in the work that adjuncts, many of whom are alumni, do to bring new subjects to our classroom and our students. That is one huge strength.
Second is the intensely loyal community of alumni, students, faculty, and staff. We really care for one another. I think that comes out in so many different ways, and it does distinguish us. I don’t think you can say that about every school. That’s not to say one school is better or worse, but it’s to say that BC has a community ethos that really means something and really distinguishes us. Certainly, that’s something that I think we should celebrate and that distinguishes us in a positive way as well.
Third, our clinical programs are very notable for their breadth and their depth. The kind of engagement BC has with the community is really, really notable. There are so many people doing so much important public service work and social justice work in the community as graduates, but also there are lots of classroom learning opportunities, clinical learning opportunities, externship opportunities for the students because of that engagement and, again, I think that that distinguishes us. Lots of schools have clinics but not a lot of schools have the kind of richness we do in those opportunities and not a lot of schools are as motivated as we are in terms of expanding them and deepening their relevance.
Fourth is a real dynamism in our faculty. We’ve been making some very exciting hires. We’ve always had wonderful faculty, but I’ve been incredibly impressed with the quality of people who I see when I go out to recruit and the quality of people who’ve come here recently. It says something very special about BC, that people are really excited to come here, people really want make a career here, make a difference here, make a mark here, and that creates an energy that will serve us very well in the years ahead. It’s really exciting for me as the dean to be a part of that kind of energy.
Q: What can alumni do to leverage these strengths?
A: I assume that people often ask you about where you went to law school and you’re your experience was. The fact that so many of you remain involved with us means that you can actually speak to your experience as a student but also to your perception of what’s happening here now. Alumni are some of our best cheerleaders and advertisers in terms of recruiting new students and also encouraging people to have a positive image of the school. So, I would encourage all of you to remain as connected as possible in terms of knowing what’s happening on campus so when people ask you about BC, you feel you have information you can give them, and honest information. Each person’s experience is unique is some way. But I feel a real sense from alumni they’re excited and have a passion for the place. So, anything you can do to communicate that passion externally, that helps us a lot.
Beyond that, some of you are in positions to hire people or to influence the hiring process—just helping BC to be part of the process and getting people to understand what we do here and that we have great students here and that if they give our students opportunities to work for them, they won’t be disappointed.
A lot of you come back and participate in our programs, mentoring and other programs, which is an important part of enriching what we do. So, for those of you who are in a position to come back to campus, seek me out, seek my associate deans out, and talk to us about what you might be able to do in the classroom, as a mentor, [or suggest] a talk you might be able to give to help students understand what’s going on in profession. Those are all great ways for alumni to help us leverage what we do well and to help us do things better.
Q: What do you think are BC Law’s greatest challenges and how will you address them?
A: Legal education is at a critical place right now. The economics of law practice are changing and that means that certain things about how or why people select law schools are changing as well. So, one big challenge that faces all law schools is what are the new opportunities for students when they leave law school, what will be the pathway that a typical student will be looking for when he or she enters law school in terms of how they will move into the profession? Traditionally, lots of large law firms hired a lot of students, so that took care of a substantial portion of a class in terms of their first job. Lots of those firms aren’t hiring the way they used to, so students have to be more creative, more thoughtful, about what they want to do and how they’re going to get there; it’s just less obvious. So, we need to be better at making sure students understand what it means to enter this profession and where the opportunities lie.
Another big challenge is going to be the economics of higher education. Law school is expensive, higher ed is expensive. We do our very best to spend every dollar carefully, but we admit and know it’s expensive to go to law school and we want to make sure it’s a proposition people can afford. We want to do what we can to help a broad cross-section of people attend. It shouldn’t be the case that you need a lot of money to go to law school. What can we do in terms of loans, loan forgiveness, fellowships? We also understand problems students are having with debt and how it hobbles people’s choices when they find that, after three years of law school, they’re faced with large debt payments that make it very difficult to find jobs that can support, anyone, really. We’re going to have to work through some of those economic problems, along with a lot of other schools, to make sure that students have the choices that they should have when they come out of law school, and to make sure that law school remains a viable choice for a broad cross-section of students.
Q: In addition to donating money to the Law School Fund, how can alumni help?
A: One of the great ways alums can help is in the counseling role. I’m sure a lot of young people come to you to ask about law school. Helping them think more carefully about why they want to go to law school and what attracts them to law school is a huge service alumni can perform. We, too, at the law school need to think more carefully about how we counsel young people who are considering law school in college or coming out of other types of employment. Hearing from people who’ve been there, their career journeys, getting students to imagine the different ways that they can reach they’re goals and seeing how law school fits into those goals, will mean that when they get to law school, they have started to think about where passions lie, what they want to get out of law school, and where they’re hoping to go. Alumni play a critical role as part of our community to offer a vision of what lies beyond and how people can get there. When a large and diverse group of alumni is part of that conversation, we can attract a larger and more diverse group of students because they are hearing people from private practice, government, and business, and they’re seeing the different ways that a law degree helped people reach their goals. So, I would see that as one of the most critical ways, apart from fundraising, that alumni can help us meet some of the challenges we’re facing going forward.
Q: How do alumni benefit from participating?
A: One big advantage for alumni in being connected to the school is being able to reconnect and maintain connections with classmates and other graduates. We have a tremendous network of people who’ve come through BC and we’re all in positions to help one another throughout our careers. Come back to BC, if not necessarily physically, but in terms of getting involved in your alumni association and see who’s there and talk to other people about what they’re doing, and I think you’ll recognize that there are incredible opportunities to leverage those connections in your own life and your own work. That’s a big benefit we can offer.
We also offer you a connection to the new talent coming into the profession. When you’re involved in law school, you’re seeing who these young people are, what their passions are, where their interests lie, and you might be able to think in terms of your own needs for people, for future employees, what’s happening in the culture and society and how that may affect what you do. Also, it gives you an opportunity to think about where the profession is headed. We give you a window onto changes in the profession over time as you see the new groups of people who are entering law school. Those are two important ways that being connected to your law school can help you professionally, in terms of people you might want to hire, in terms of recognizing what’s going on more broadly in the profession, and in terms of the energy that comes from connections with people who are doing all different kinds of things but who are all rooted in the same educational experience.
Q: [16:31] In what ways will BC Law address the difficult job market for new graduates? For alumni generally?
B: Law schools do provide for alumni a great point of contact throughout your careers, when you’re making transitions in your professional life, and we aim to do that as much as we can. Obviously, we have a particular role to play with current students, but in the process of helping them, we are learning about where opportunities lie in profession. We can often use that to help graduates who’ve been out for some time. I urge people to remain in contact with us and career services in that regard.
The job market currently does present some challenges. Some opportunities have diminished in number, particularly in larger firms, private sector firms. You have to think more carefully about how to market yourself as a prospective employee, and there’s a lot we can do to help students learn about that. What I think is happening in the job market in the law is that it’s becoming a lot more like job markets in other fields. You don’t just leave school and have a job waiting for you. You have to find a job, take some time to understand where you fit into a particular sector of employment, market yourself, recognize there’s a lot of competition for what you want. Your education alone isn’t the key—it’s education and then motivation once you leave law school. We can do a lot to help you and we’re anxious to hear, particularly from alumni, about what they are looking for when they are hiring because then we can be better counselors for our students.
I hope over time that process will makes students a little bit more savvy and will make the issue of the fact that there are fewer opportunities in some sectors less scary. The fact that jobs are shrinking in some areas doesn’t mean there are no more jobs. It means that there are jobs in other places that might be more difficult to access. We just have to figure out how to get there. It may take longer, that’s a reality, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to connect eventually to an opportunity that will be satisfying and lead you into a very, very rich career. I urge students to “be not afraid,” to charge forth, and I urge alums to be in touch with us about what we can do based on what they’re experiencing in the real world to help.
Q: How should we understand law school rankings, and what are your plans are for enhancing BC Law’s stature?
A: Rankings have changed so much about legal education over last quarter century, so don’t ever want to be heard to say they’re not important; they’re very important. But I always want to emphasize that we don’t run our law school based on positioning ourselves in the rankings. We run BC based on our mission, institutional values, and on providing the highest possible quality of education to our students. But reality means we need to understand how we’re doing relative to other schools. It matters to students coming to law school, it matters to students we have already educated, and it matters to employers.
So, we’re always looking at the criteria used to rank law schools and asking ourselves how we are performing relative to our peers. Where we can use alumni help is getting people to understand the limitations of rankings and that the criteria upon which [rank is based] are constantly in motion. In one year there may be emphasis on a certain kind of reporting in terms of employment, for instance, and a few years later, the way the data are reported has changed. So, we have to reconfigure a lot of things to make sure a true report about what we do is coming out and being assessed by those entities that rank, primarily US News & World Report. But when you see the rankings, you can see that schools are clumped together and that very minor changes in data can mean major swings in where school is ranked. So, there is so only so much we can do to control some of those things.
What’s really important is that people recognize the limitations of what a particular rank can say about a school, so the fact that a school may move between 25 and 30, for instance, may not be that anything that specific or qualitative has changed, but it may mean that a few numbers have gone up and down relative to another school and that means the ranking has moved.
Our goal as an institution is to understand where we fit in terms of our peer group, to maintain a position with schools that we believe we compare to in a meaningful way, and to send a message that says we are properly recognized nationally and beyond for being the highest quality school we can be. And I do believe BC can do more, and we will be doing more, to elevate ourselves in stature a bit. Part of that is about marketing and getting our message out, and part is recognizing areas in which we can improve based on what rankings look for and what our peers are doing. We’re going to work as hard as we possibly can to make sure we are delivering the best quality education we can, that people recognize the things we are doing well.
And the way alumni can help us is to get the message out—if you really feel we’re delivering a quality product in terms of what you’re experience was and what you’re seeing in the young people who are leaving law school now— is to let people know because reputation, that very amorphous part of rankings, is a huge part of the final number. We need to have a reputation in the community beyond Boston, nationally, that suggests to people that we are the top quality that we all know Boston College is.
Q: Because rankings aren’t static, there are things that you have to do to stay ahead. How do you do that? How do you make those predictions?
A: I spend a lot of time listening to where concerns are being raised in the media about legal education, for example, about schools—far below BC in ranking—who’ve been misreporting employment data. There has also been information about schools closer to us in ranking who’ve been misreporting statistics of the entering class: grade point averages and LSAT scores. One thing this indicates is that there’s tremendous pressure to misreport, and that has a huge distorting affect on rankings. Knowing that, we try to think carefully about what’s under scrutiny and make sure we’re only reporting appropriate data. We’re also looking about to [discern] what the data mean for us. For instance, when thinking about GPA—why is that important, what are we trying to achieve, where can we be flexible, and how does that comport with the kind of institution we want to be? Recognizing that that is going to be examined, we want to be attentive to the role that it’s playing in admissions. Job placement? Similar question. It might take shifting resources to make sure we’re on top of the issue. It’s something we’d be doing anyway, but as in any business or competitive situation, you’re going to move resources around in recognition of the fact that, in a particular situation, you need particular skills. That can be difficult at times [because] resources are limited and because the game is shifting all the time. Universities aren’t the most nimble institutions, so we rely heavily on having resources that allow us to make those quick moves when we need. Things like the annual fund, which we use to respond quickly to needs that occur throughout the year because it’s unrestricted money, are very important. If you are concerned about rankings, remember that resources allow us to be fairly responsive when we sense that changes in rankings or changes in the emphases are coming.
Q: How will BC Law attract and retain top-notch faculty?
A: There are a couple of things we have to focus on. First, bringing in entry level faulty, which is primarily the way we hire. We have some great advantages, Boston being one of them. People want to be here [because of the] rich intellectual life of the city, but how to do we keep them here? The institution has to provide them with resources as they move through the stages of their career—[they want to know:] can I go to conferences, can I get time off for major writing projects? So we have to have the resources to allow them the support as they go in these directions in their work. Sometimes we have to respond competitively—if they get offers to go elsewhere. If we can respond competitively to external offers, we have a very good chance of keeping them.
Another thing is identifying people who are rising stars and bringing them here or who are established stars who can offer something that is of particular importance to us.
Faculty is a sub-community that has particular needs, and we want to keep it dynamic, motivated, and rich. So we have to be nimble in terms of thinking what mix of people we need, how do we keep them productive and engaged, and how do we respond to the potential of new entrants to the community so we can bring in that energy or expertise. A lot of that is resource driven, it’s done through chairs, but at end of day, faculty support does involve having appropriate resources.
Q: One of the concerns reflected in a survey of BC Law alumni a few years ago was that every contact with alumni includes a development component. What are your thoughts on this perception?
A: It’s a sad statement if it’s true that every contact would have a development component. It’s not the way I want to do things. So many of the things I see regarding the relationship between alumni and the Law School have nothing to do with fundraising—mentoring, reunion committees, for instance,—but we are a private institution and we depend heavily on private support. So, part of what we do as a community is support that community financially. I would hope that we’d be involved in a large range of interactions with alumni, some of which would involve development, but many don’t. I want to think creatively about numerous ways we want to be engaged with alumni, but also to be open about development as one of the ways. But we should not be in a position that that’s the only way you see it.
Q: Connecting and reconnecting with alumni is of a value in and of itself. Is that fair because of all the other benefits that come?
A: (33:34) Absolutely. Maintenance of our community ethos depends on that. If that is something that is unique about us, we really need to be in relationship with one other across all these groups. Sometimes that’s all it is: Teaching for us is being in relationship, mentoring, visiting, talking about the Law School to young people who are interested, counseling young people about law, is being in relationship. When you speak as a member of this profession who went to BC Law School, you are in relationship with your school, with the community. You are part of who we are. Development is just one part of that.
Q: What is difference between a Jesuit BC Law and a Catholic BC Law?
A: The Jesuit identity is very particular. It is a unique statement about a kind of history, an intellectual history, an institutional history, that BC has, but it is part of a Catholic history.
One way to think about it is, Jesuit institutions are part of Catholic tradition in same way that, say, Texas is part of the US and New England is part of USA. There are some critical differences between Texas and New England, different ways of approaching life, ways of thinking about living, climate. In a way, Jesuits are part of the broader Catholic church, where they have developed a unique understanding of their role. They have a unique history, they have a special charism, a special have a way of engaging the spirit of Catholics in the world. That redounds to our benefit institutionally because BC is part of that many-hundreds-of-years-old tradition of Catholic intellectual life. But it is not a statement about being Catholic in a way that some might call parochial. There are other institutions in the Catholic church to inculcate Catholics with the dogma of faith, traditions of the faith. That’s not the university’s role in the same way, and that’s not what Jesuits have done in their universities, which are a different type of institutional setting and not a proselytizing setting. I don’t think people should be afraid of hearing the terms Jesuit and Catholic together, just like you would not be afraid of hearing Texas and the US together and Massachusetts and US tougher. You can still recognize that there is a difference between Texas and Massachusetts but that they’re still American.
Q: What are your thoughts about the disaffection some non-Catholic alumni have felt as a result of the perception that BC Law has become increasingly Catholic?
A: I would hope that the alumni feel that way would give me an opportunity to speak directly to them and talk about why they have this sense and what I can do, what we can do, to think through what we can do to make sure they feel that they are part of this community. I can’t speak for what went on in past; I can only speak for the kind of future I see for BC law. For me, being part of a Catholic university is particularly exciting because it opens possibility for a broad conversation across religious faith. The biggest difference between a Catholic university, a Jesuit university and, say, a secular one, a state school, is that we can treat religion as meaningful in people’s lives and faith as an important part of people’s lives and talk about it. But I say faith, I say religion, I don’t say Catholicism. I hope that people of many faith traditions who’ve always been part of BC would recognize that their participation in the life of the school is essential to making us who we are and that we’re having these conversations that in many instances can’t be had in other settings or that in other settings are not encouraged.
We want to form people as the people who they are, who you are when you come to us. It’s not my job to change you; it’s my job to be in relationship with you as that person. So if you feel alienated because you believe the institution has rejected you on religious grounds or has retreated into a religious identity that excludes you, let’s have a conversation, let’s start from scratch and talk about that because that is not the kind of institution that I hope to lead.
Q: What should we know about Vincent Rougeau that we haven’t learned yet?
A: I love to travel, I love to eat, probably too much. I love wine, love the outdoors, hiking and canoeing. I spent a year living in France, one of most enriching years of my education was the year I spent abroad, so I have a really intense curiosity about the world about things international, global. So, I am immensely excited to be here because there are so many things that are important to me that I’m going to be able to do here.
And I don’t like peanut butter.
Q: What’s your favorite candy?
A: Milky Way.
Q: [Vincent to Marty] What can we do to make your association as an alumnus richer and more meaningful?
A: [Marty]: Most important is to keep us informed. We really have a desire to know what’s going on here. [My interactions with] a huge proportion of alumni have led me to believe that people love this institution. They want to know what’s new, what’s changed, what’s staying the same, how you’re making progress. Information is the number one thing.
Vincent: We’re trying a lot of new things….We want to be in a relationship with you, alumni are a critical part of what we do. The information, feedback, and support you provide are amazing and incredibly important.