Opening Statement

A full year had passed since the catastrophe; the survivors had absorbed the blow and found, to their amazement, that they were still standing, though some were a bit more wobbly than others.  In a tentative fragile way, things were starting to return to normal…[i]

 

Novelist Tom Perrotta could have been describing how many of us feel post-pandemic in this excerpt from his novel The Leftovers.  This work, which also is an HBO mini-series, explores grief and loss in the wake of the simultaneous disappearance of millions worldwide, “the Sudden Departure.”  Those left behind were forced to adapt to a new “normal,” even as they knew normalcy would never return.  

In the sixteen months since Covid-19 first appeared, we, too, are recovering from a seismic jolt, thanks to vaccines and medical treatments that have slowed the virus’s spread in this country.  Just as the Sudden Departure survivors, we are a bit “wobbly” and “tentative” as we recalibrate.

Reviewing this academic year, I realize that we also have been strengthened by this experience. Consider Hooding.  Unlike last year, we were able to graduate our Bearcats in person at Fifth Third Arena—120 of them—in an abbreviated, lively, and CDC-compliant ceremony.  Supplementing the live event was a keepsake video featuring David Willbrand (’96) as keynote speaker.  My colleagues and I were so pleased that this part of “the normal” law school experience could be available to the class of 2021, which has spent half of their law school careers online, the only cohort of Cincinnati Law students to do so.  Despite this lost time, our students inspired me with their resilience and determination.

Reviewing this academic year, I realize that we also have been strengthened by this experience.

Verna Williams, Dean and Nippert Professor of Law

Specifically, I had the great privilege of meeting with them, along with members of the Dean’s Advisory Board, to celebrate graduation toward the semester’s end.  These students shared stories of pandemic perseverance that reaffirmed my faith in the future.  They talked about how the lockdown was a “time of huge personal growth,” how “inspiring” they found their classmates.  That they came to law school as “brawlers, but now know how to land a punch.” To a person, each was ready to take their place in the profession, seeking to make a difference.  In other words, our students worked through these challenging circumstances and emerged even more focused on their respective missions.

Much like their alma mater.

As Cincinnati Law pivoted, innovated, and executed in response to changing circumstances, we, too, advanced our mission.  Some examples:

  • We broke ground on our new building, which we’ll occupy starting July 2022.
  • Thanks to the hard work of Professors Lynn Bai and Brad Mank, and Assistant Dean Nora Wagner, the Ohio Department of Higher Education approved our new master’s in law program, which will launch Spring semester 2022.
  • Our Ohio Innocence Project gained new trials and the release of two men serving over ten years for a crime they did not commit, increasing OIP’s total exonerations to 33.  In addition, OIP scored a legislative victory when the Ohio Senate unanimously approved a bill requiring police to record interrogations.
  • TJ Robinson (3L) and Katie Basalla (3L) argued in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and secured a new trial for their client.
  • Greg Magarian (3L) became the first Cincinnati Law Student to earn Best Oralist in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot Competition.  Our team won an honorable mention for their brief.
  • Professor Sandra Sperino was elected to the American Law Institute, the leading independent US organization producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and otherwise improve the law.
  • Professor Meghan Morris received the Goldman Award in her first year of teaching and was named an inaugural University Research Council Faculty Member.

With such accomplishments and others during these extraordinary times, I know our momentum will continue long after Covid is a distant memory.

For now, faculty, staff, and students alike look forward to returning to the building for the very last academic year at the corner of Clifton and Calhoun.  When we do, it will be with new pedagogical tools, new ways of collaborating with stakeholders, and a new appreciation for our community, of which you are an important part. 

 

Verna Williams

Dean and Nippert Professor of Law

 

[1] Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers 4 (2011)