From (the earth) did We create you, and to it shall We return you. . . . (Qur’an, Taha v. 55)
Following what I hope was a restful and rewarding winter break, I welcome you back to campus, and the start of the spring semester. Mine proved challenging, with the passing of my father just at its start. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on who he was, what he meant to me, and what of his legacy I seek to carry forward in my own work with all of you. In candor, I also hope to use it as space to grieve, and as a deliberate corrective to a culture of toxic positivity that seems relentless in its demand to find the bright side in everything, even the death of a human being whose life I valued more than could be measured.
Ala ul-Din Baqir Abdul Majeed Hamoudi was born on Huwaydi Street in the Inner Kerrada neighborhood of Baghdad on July 7, 1935. Or so his documents report, anyway. Few in Iraq paid much attention to actual dates of birth in those days, at least until British officials came through demanding proper documentation and proper certificates. July 7, or 7/7, adds up to 14, a special number for the Shi’a, representing the Fourteen Infallibles, and so it was as convenient a day as any to supply the curiously demanding British. Hence July 7 it was for him, and for each of his twelve siblings as well.
My father was the sixth child of that remarkable group of thirteen, and the fifth to survive to adulthood. This served him well throughout his life, as he proved remarkably resilient and self-reliant. It also freed him in a way that advanced his career considerably. Unlike the older children, he had few family responsibilities and unlike the younger ones, the academic achievement that would lead him to become the first in the family to go to graduate school of any kind, let alone medical school, was more unusual for the family at the time and thus more supported. And so he graduated from Iraq’s top medical school, Baghdad Medical College, in 1961.
There were many reasons that my father, a child of a merchant family, chose to become a doctor. Two are particularly worthy of mention. The first was ambition—the most successful students in Iraq became doctors, and my father was committed to excelling. The second, equally important, was a deep and abiding commitment to a life of service to others. We Hamoudis are on balance faith-driven, even if it does not show as prominently in all parts of our individual life journeys. As such, we carry with us a deep-seated belief that, as my father was wont to put it, we will stand one day before the Throne stripped of title and possession. My father wanted to be able to say for himself at the end of his life that he saved human lives.
My father would certainly put it that way. For my own part, observing him as I did, I would not regard it as wrong, but rather partial. I am not entirely convinced that the Call to Judgment served as the sole motivator for his commitment to service, and for his adoption of kindness and gentleness as the state of being that defined him. I think he recognized it as core to the living of a good life, in this world as much as in the next. He made a point of saying hello and exchanging a kind word with anyone he came across, from his barber to my schoolyard friends to colleagues at a conference, and listening with active and genuine interest to whatever happened to be on their mind. I could see how it made them feel at the time, I could recognize how deeply that remained with them for years on end, and I only began to internalize its power in the last few weeks, as people whom I barely know have reached out to tell me a story of a random, seemingly small, act of kindness or generosity on my father’s part that they wanted me to know, now that he is gone. This is a model I often seek to emulate, albeit highly imperfectly.
In any event, whatever the motivations, my father was ambitious, he was kind, and he was dedicated to service. These core attributes defined every step of his journey upon graduation from Medical School. Ambition drove him to Morgantown, and West Virginia University, in 1966, where he remained for two years before returning to Baghdad and meeting my mother. Ambition drove him back to the United States in 1969, and to completing the medical boards as a pathologist, and ultimately, to the start of an academic journey that led to the discovery of a rare form of pancreatic cancer that continues to be known to this day as the Hamoudi Tumor.
And ambition had its limits for this person of service, which came at him from two directions. The first was inherent in the nature of the academic enterprise. To discover a tumor is to do important work, he would say, and its benefits are less immediately felt than, say, initiating a program of experiential medical education that directly impacts the lives of students. In the height of my scholarly career, I could not understand what on earth he meant by any of this. Now, as with so much else, I feel its wisdom resonate deep within me.
But what my father could do was more limited than what I could many years later. Nobody with an Arab and Muslim name who spoke English with an accent like his was going to become Dean of the College of anything in the mid-1970’s in the United States, no matter how many tumors they discovered. We had a hard enough time buying furniture in the months following the Yom Kippur War—a war which, for the avoidance of doubt, we had nothing to do with.
Apropos of the problem my father faced throughout his life, I asked him once why he was such a rabid fan of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, as an Iraqi immigrant who only began to understand the rules of the game in his third decade of life. “It’s really the only time that they let me feel like I’m one of them,” he replied simply. That he said it without complaint or judgment, only description, made it all the more devastating. It was enough to make the creation of a culture of belonging a lifelong commitment of mine, however imperfectly I carry it out.
Ultimately, in light of these constraints, my father chose to return to clinical work, and specifically to work with children, a passion of his for as long as I knew him. He worked for decades at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. As a pathologist, pediatrics was very challenging work—so much of it involved autopsies of dead babies. And yet the rewards of trying to find out why a given child had died, and what might be done in the future to avoid something similar, was his calling, and one that he performed by all accounts exceptionally well.
My father’s forays into leadership were driven by necessity and desire in a different direction. He built Muslim community. When I was a child in Columbus Ohio, the number of Muslims could be counted readily in the dozens, and we had no center. Through the work of my father, and of course many others, the Islamic Foundation of Central Ohio was established, a property purchased on Broad Street, and Central Ohio’s first mosque was built on it, where it remains standing to this day. My father ultimately served as president of IFCO at one point, and on its Board of Directors several times. There were ups and downs. I remember well the demonstration held in front of what was then Central Ohio’s only mosque, denouncing us and (without irony) proclaiming the core values of free speech and tolerance, on account of a death sentence issued by an Ayatollah against an author half a world away, which, for the avoidance of doubt, our mosque had nothing to do with. I also remember screaming at a television set on the eve of Halloween as the only famous American Muslim we knew took down George Foreman in round 8 when quite literally everyone said there was no chance of victory for the Muslim traitor (so Muhammad Ali was called back then, with Vietnam still raging). Halloween always meant something special to me after that. It is the day after Ali changed the world, or my world anyway.
In the end, my father persevered, patiently building, as the Qur’an repeatedly exhorts the believers to do, deploying his kindness and generosity of spirit to the antagonists who stood in his path, and ultimately winning most of them over. Central Ohio now boasts the second largest Somali community in the United States, and over 100,000 Muslims and ten mosques. None of us in our converted mansion on East Broad Street would have dreamed it possible.
With the Muslim community firmly established and well ensconced, my father then turned to another project around his retirement—the creation of a center for the growing Shi’a Muslim community in Central Ohio. When there were less than a hundred of us Muslims, Sunni-Shi’a division was not a luxury we could afford. At 100,000, the matter was quite different, and the desire for a Shi’i center more acute. And so, as he had done decades earlier, my father led a community, bought a property, and built a center, the Ahl ul Bayt Islamic Center, which remains the one Shi’a mosque in Central Ohio. It was there, reading the Qur’an at the end of a day in Ramadan about ten years ago, that he suffered a significant stroke that would impair his capacity to walk and to communicate for the rest of his life.
My father was never one for ostentation or extravagance. He never owned a designer suit, nor a fancy car. Our only major household expense was private school tuition because, as he told us often, what God ordered the Prophet to do first was to read. Given this outlook, I do not think I ever purchased anything anywhere at any time that my father was not certain I overpaid for, excepting my children’s tuition fees of course. What he valued in the end, beyond education, was community, service, and family, and he put his immeasurable talents and ambitions to all three, to the immeasurable benefit of us all.
As a result, when he did pass, it only took us hours to procure a spot to wash his body—at the local Somali mosque which also insisted that we do our funeral prayer for the deceased before he leave the grounds, as one of the founders of Central Ohio’s first mosque. I will never forget the act of kindness, and the support, physical and mental, these Somali-Americans extended to me, whose responsibility it was to wash the body. It was not a burden I could bear alone. The cemetery prepared a grave even as we were washing him, and refused to take money from our family, even for the headstone. The commemoration at the Ahl ul Bayt Society he founded, which was held a day later, drew several hundred. They learned of the passing less than 24 hours earlier, and yet they came from hundreds of miles away to pay their respects. This is what my father meant to the Central Ohio Muslim community.
As to what he meant to me, I remember well a moment in second grade, having heard another story of the Prophet Muhammad’s kindness, generosity of spirit, or wisdom, asking my father when we would be able to travel to meet the Holy Prophet, and learn from him directly. I was overwrought with anxiety upon learning that he had passed from the earth over a millenium earlier, unable to sleep in the evening for a while as I contemplated the weight of that absence. In the end, my eight year old mind gave way to slumber, as I came to recognized that even if the Holy Prophet was no longer with us, my father was, and he would always be able to point the way. Now that he is gone too, it is hard to convey the depth of loss I feel, and the extent to which I travel truly without guide.
He lived loving and beloved. He died content and having contented all who had the good fortune to know him. I will cherish our time together and remember him as he deserves to be remembered, not an elderly stroke victim whose body was racked with sores I sought in vain to wash clean when preparing his body to meet his Lord, but young, vibrant, funny, and generous, whose kindness came as naturally as his breath, which slowed, grew shallower, and ultimately stopped just after 10 am on December 16. Rest in peace, Dad. I love you.
This blog post, my final of the semester, comes on the eve of examinations, and it will be shorter than most. In it, I just want to emphasize a few important points that I hope have some resonance in much of my earlier messaging to all of you, individually, and collectively.
First, please do take care of yourselves. The examination period is stressful, as anyone who has gone through it can attest. The anxiety is heightened among 1L’s. If you are feeling particularly anxious and are concerned about your mental well being, please do not hesitate to reach out to Dean Trejo or Kinsey, who can connect you to the appropriate resources. Your well being and your success are deeply important to us.
Second, please do take care of each other. Creating an inclusive culture of belonging is a premier priority of the College, and one we will continue to promote. Kindness, empathy, and mutual respect and support are pillars of such a culture, and I thank you in advance for all that you do to further these. In times of high stress, our community values come under the greatest pressure, and yet it is at these times when they are the most important. I know that we will all work hard to remain true to our values despite the pressures of the moment.
Finally, it is going to be okay. It simply is not true that performance on any set of examinations determines, or even has a significant influence on, whether a law student has a happy and rewarding legal career. In over two decades of experience, I have amassed dozens, if not hundreds, of counterfactuals to that absolutely false assumption. I acknowledge that I would not have believed my Dean if they had told me that before my first set of examinations. They would have been right regardless.
Thank you for listening, and for making this an incredible first semester for me. I wish you each every success in the world, and once again, do take care of yourselves, take care of one another, and know that it is all going to be okay.
At the end of last week, we here at the UC Law received some really wonderful news—a first time bar pass rate of 88% on the Ohio Bar examination administered last summer, placing us second in the state, and 8% above the statewide average. Our overall bar pass rate of 83% was also second in the state, and a full 10% higher than the statewide average. It is hard to underestimate the extent of elation that permeated the building, among all stakeholders. Perhaps the best illustration of it was the fact that our Provost was informed of the news twice during the same faculty meeting he attended, and that there were three rounds of applause associated with it, at that meeting alone. I also announced it two other times over the course of the day, in each case to rich applause.
The reason I highlight this is to demonstrate what I think is near absolute unanimity in our community, and indeed among stakeholders in law schools generally, that a high bar passage rate is an unalloyed good. This is in sharp contradistinction to many other metrics, such as US News rankings, where there is active debate in law schools across the country respecting its value and utility. And the reason this is important is because it demonstrates the intentions of the UC faculty in instituting academic success policies in recent years. These appear mostly in amendments to Rule 9 of the JD Academic Rules of the College, calling for earlier interventions for struggling students. As an academic leader who rose to my position in the traditional manner (i.e. through the academic hierarchy), it is not hard for me to understand and internalize those intentions.
Specifically, the faculty was seeking to direct resources to students who were most vulnerable to not being successful on the bar, based on data that the College had collected, which is very consistent with the data across the country. I am absolutely certain that the faculty believe, as I do, and as the data strongly indicates, that a harder start to law school does not at all preclude a rich and rewarding legal career. Each of us could offer personal examples that number in the dozens that disprove that lazy (and actually quite silly) hypothesis. We also know that a hard start to law school does mean a greater risk of failing the bar. And we also know how much time, effort, and expense it takes to pass the bar, that underprivileged and first generation students are more likely to struggle early than the children of Sixth Circuit judges and prominent law firm partners, and that our early investment in our struggling students helps to establish a more equitable playing field. There are honestly no bad intentions at work—in a world of scarce resources, we are devoting them to students who need them, to help ensure their ultimate success.
That, I emphasize, is the message intended. What I also have learned in my years of leadership training is that the road to perdition lies in assuming that because one has good intentions, everyone else must know this, and therefore anyone resisting the well intended measures must be proceeding from bad intentions. That fallacy, all too common in our hyperpartisan age, entirely disregards the chasm that can exist between how a message was intended and how it was received. And a person has no hope of being able to bridge that chasm without trying to step into the shoes of the person on the other end, and see the world from their perspective. Again, in our times, this is sadly disregarded all too often, both in the United States and across the world. Let me try to take that step here, however imperfectly.
You graduated from a respected college with fairly good grades and a decent LSAT score, despite being the first in your family to go to college. Your hard work landed you into the law school of your dreams in the Fall of 2022, which is, it goes without saying, Cincinnati Law. You begin eager, imagining yourself at the top of the class, litigating cases before the Supreme Court eventually, perhaps running for federal office. And to get there, you work hard—really hard. Law school proves far more difficult than you imagined, but you pushed through. You made it through a semester at least, and you think you did okay. Now you get a letter or an email. It might say nice and encouraging things, it might speak of investment in your future and faith in your capacities. That’s the part that you skim. The piece that sticks in your throat is the information imparted to you, however delicately, that you didn’t do so well, that you are at risk of not passing the bar, and that there are steps to take. You’re a “Rule 9 student” or at least at risk of becoming one. The message received? In the worst case, it might boil down to “you’re failing, loser, and it’s time to shape up.” About as far from the message intended as can be imagined.
One of the challenges in this particular case is that there are very few faculty members who can actually draw from their own personal law school experiences to bridge the gap. I certainly cannot—I did well. But we all have our experiences of struggle, and I always try to draw on those. Mine relates to back to a time in my early 40’s, when I was a morbidly obese ex-football player in terrible shape. I was told I had a blood pressure problem, and I might have to start taking medication for it and changing my lifestyle if I wanted to see my children graduate high school. I don’t remember precisely what the doctor said beyond that. I do remember what I heard, and the flood of embarrassment and shame that flooded over me. None of it felt good. The shame persists to this day. I do not write these words easily.
Yet they are important for me to remember. They have made me a better leader. In my earlier roles in academic leadership, I sent out hundreds of letters relating to bar passage risks, of the type described above. I try to remember that doctor visit, each and every time a student came to my office—to protest, to cry, to ask if they should continue law school. Nothing was more important for me in these contexts than to remember what it felt like when someone was trying to give me information that would improve my life, and all I heard was that I was an insurance risk with an insufficient commit to dieting whose life was nearing its end.
At the same time, as I hope all of you realize, the delivery of the message, and the offer of resource support, is in fact necessary, much as it was necessary for me to hear of my health problems. The shame, of course, is neither helpful, nor intended. In some ways, however, it feels unavoidable. As Academic Affairs Dean elsewhere, I must have rewritten my letters dozens of times, and if there is a way to avoid inducing shame entirely, I am certain it lies beyond my capacity. Yet I continued to write the letters, and to support our processes, because they work. The information they deliver, and the support that follows, is very important, as shown by our bar passage data, or in my case by the fact that I am now a marathoning vegan who has never taken a blood pressure pill in my life.
So in the end we have work to do. We in the faculty and the administration need to continue to deliver as clearly and consistently as we can what our intentions are in delivering the messaging we do, and why we have embarked upon the course we have. And we need to adjust as we can to be sensitive to how the message is received. Some of this might involve adjustments to policy, and indeed we have adjusted Rule 9 this term to address some concerns. Most of it involves talking with you, our students, so that we can better understand you, and you can understand what we are trying to achieve. From that, we can work together productively to achieve the results we all fervently desire—the highest bar passage rate we can manage. Second is wonderful. First would be better.
I commit to continuing to work on this. If I cannot make everyone in the world try to see it from the perspective of their adversaries, I will at least exert influence where I have it, and where it might be productively deployed.
Take care of yourselves and one another,
This week, as you return from Fall Break, I thought I would offer our academic success team an opportunity to address all of you, so that you can best position yourselves to succeed in the next half of the semester. I’ll be back to address everyone in the next entry, right around Halloween, either in zombie or human form (TBD). Thanks to Dyann and Kate for their contribution! Until next time, I ask as always that you each take care of yourselves and one another. Dean Hamoudi
Hello and welcome back from Fall Break!
We hope that you were able to take time to relax and reboot so you are ready to come back and finish the semester strong. It may seem hard to believe, but in the blink of an eye, fall semester will be behind us, and you will be preparing for final exams.
To that end, we want to take this opportunity to remind you of ways that you can best position yourself for success in the second half of the semester.
(1) Outlining is a learning tool, and it is not just for open book exams.
Outlining is one of the best ways that you can contextualize the vast amount of information you are learning in your classes. It helps you see how everything works together and how you can use the law to solve problems and hypotheticals.
Because outlining is largely about the process itself, it’s important to remember that outlines aren’t just for open book exams. In fact, you want to prepare for exams—closed or open book—in the exact same way. The other important thing to remember is that, even if an exam is open book, you won’t have sufficient time to flip through outlines or other course materials. You must be able to readily identify the issues and resolve them with efficiency, and the outlining process will strengthen this skill.
In sum, the act of creating your own outline has substantial value regardless of exam format—so don’t shortcut the process!
(2) Take time to work on practice problems.
It can be easy to fall into the “I just have to outline and memorize everything” pattern in law school. However, if you solely focus on memorizing black letter law, you are missing out on an important piece of the learning process that is key to your exam success.
On a typical law school exam, you won’t be asked to recite memorized law or explain the law in a vacuum. Yes, you must be able to recall and accurately state the law, but that is the baseline. You must then demonstrate your knowledge of how the law operates in different situations. This is why law school exams ask you to work through hypothetical questions where you must spot issues and then analyze them by utilizing the relevant law and provided facts.
The best way to prepare for these types of exams is to work through practice problems, and you can access many free practice resources through the UC Law Library. Some of our personal favorites include CALI Lessons and Examples and Explanations, but ask your professors if they have any they find particularly helpful!
(3) Take advantage of the other resources that are available.
Law school is hard! There is no expectation that you go through it alone. Through UC Law, you have access to a plethora of available resources, including:
- Your Professors.
Don’t be afraid to go see your professors during office hours! Your professors understand that the law is complex, and they specifically set aside this time to ensure that you can ask questions and gain clarification on the topics they’ve covered. If you can’t make a particular office hour, reach out to your professor to find some time that will work for both of you.
On a related note, if you had a midterm that didn’t go as well as you wanted, it is especially important to take the time to go meet with your professor so you can use it as a checkpoint and springboard to improvement.
- Your TAs.
The TAs for your classes are an invaluable resource. Your professors select their TAs based on their competency and knowledge in that subject area. Therefore, your TAs are well-situated to help you with class materials and content, approach, and any other questions you have related to that course.
- Your Academic Success Team.
Of course, we are also here to help you!
Whether you are struggling with how to adjust to law school, build an effective study plan, draft your outlines, approach exams, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out or schedule an appointment with us. Our Calendly links are provided below:
-Dean Margolis: https://calendly.com/margoldn/30min
-Professor Selander: https://calendly.com/selandkb/30min
We know that this point in the semester—between the readings, and the outlining, and the midterms, and the other assignments—can start to wear you down. If you start to feel overwhelmed, just try to remember two big things: (1) you are not alone, and we are here to help in any way we can, and (2) you have done hard things before, and you can do this too!
Most of you have probably heard by now of “flow”, a state of being where one is fully immersed in their work, bringing with it an intensity and a clarity of focus that borders on ecstasy. The paradigms of performers in flow are elite athletes and artists, for perhaps obvious reasons. Yet flow can come just as naturally to law students (and law deans) in job interviews, taking exams, or making oral arguments. Time stands still, distractions have faded away, negative feelings are nowhere to be found, and there is nothing in the world but dedication to the task at hand. The feeling is truly unparalleled.
As the above shows, I am as much a fan of flow as anyone. I believe that my previous posts, relating to mindfulness, belonging, and gratitude in particular, help bring it about. I imagine most could readily understand why flow does not happen all that often to a resentful person seething about a social media post who is in a professional setting where they do not feel welcome, and why balanced, centered, and grateful people who are in a place where they do belong are more likely to find it.
Still, despite all this, there is a problem with the flow mania that I think is underappreciated. Flow does not happen much of the time when you need to perform. Most of the time, we are all at least a bit distracted, anxious, or annoyed about something that causes us not to be able to remain fully focused for every long. And to me, the sign of a successful professional, legal or otherwise, lies in their ability to summon the resources necessary to complete the task notwithstanding the obstacles. That underappreciated virtue is not flow, but grit, which is what you have to call upon when you have to do something and flow is not coming.
The most common image of grit is of one nearing the summit of a mountain, the end of a marathon, or overtime in a football game, and coming up with that last little ounce of strength necessary to close out some magnificent and previously unimaginable feat. Yet as a marathon runner, I don’t think that I rely so much upon grit at that moment. When thousands of fans on Boylston Street are cheering me on, and I can see the end of the Boston Marathon, it’s not all that difficult to finish.
Six miles earlier, with a full 10K left to run, in rather intense pain, with many fewer fans around, is a different matter altogether. And even more different than that is the day I venture out for a 12 mile tempo run, or a 22 mile long run with no fans around. Some days, indeed perhaps most, I can start these runs and find myself in a state of flow rather quickly. (Mood follows action and not the reverse, the adage goes—an adage wise enough to deserve another post in the future.) And yet many days, because it is raining, because I had a bad night’s sleep, or because something happened at work that is very much weighing on my mind, those negative feelings sit with me the entire time. The true value of grit is the ability to recognize them, sit with them in full awareness, and nonetheless carry on in less than ideal conditions, returning the focus again and again to the task at hand, knowing that ultimately at best I will turn in a performance that I will estimate at mediocre. It is the ability to do that, time and again, which to my mind separates high performing professionals from their peers much more than the capacity to enter into a state of flow slightly more often.
Moreover, it is easy to underestimate how much one can achieve in a slog, through grit alone. One major categorical misconception I find in many early professionals is a belief that somehow if they are not in a state of flow, then whatever they are doing is subpar in the best case, and not worth the doing in the worst. It is hard to overemphasize how wrong this is. I don’t imagine Eliud Kiphchoge was in a state of undistracted ecstatic focus when he made it to the end of the 2015 Berlin Marathon, blistered and bloodied, with quite literally half of each shoe dragging along behind him. I imagine that the missing of half of each shoe might have served as a distraction from time to time, over the course of the two hour race. On more prosaic and more personal terms, I did a deanship interview a few years ago in which I found myself in the greatest state of flow I have ever achieved. An hour felt like 45 seconds. The search firm chief told me it was the best interview they had seen in a decade of witnessing such interviews. I did not get the job. The job I did get began with an interview that followed a night of three hours of sleep and a sick child where I consciously sipped a coffee after each question as a means of convincing myself that the little jolt of energy provided by that sip was what I needed to answer the next question well. I did not feel as good at the end of it, and I estimated my chances of a call back at 15%. Obviously, I miscalculated, because here I am. I would like to think of this position I am so privileged to hold as my 2015 Berlin Marathon.
So what to do on that day when nothing seems to be going right, and you can’t seem to focus on your writing assignment, and yet you push through and do the work you need to, deciding at the end of it all that it isn’t your best work, though probably good enough? Two things. First, remember that how you feel has little to do with how more objective outsiders, who have no idea how you felt, will assess your work in the end. Second, after that reminder, go buy yourself a nice ice cream sundae. And then prepare yourself to do it again, when the occasion arises. Because once that part is mastered, it is all downhill to walking across the stage with a cap on your head to shake my hand.
Take care of yourselves and one another,
Those of you who have spoken with me, or heard me speak (voluntarily, at a drop in or lunch, or less so, at orientation) are aware of the high value I place on mindfulness and presence. Indeed, I find it the single trait I seek to cultivate most in my life, to ensure that I am able to achieve what matters most on a given day. In the absence of it, the hurly-burly of the world has the potential to sweep me away, so that what is actually important is sacrificed to what feels in the moment to be the most urgent.
I thought I would take time to write today on a companion practice to mindfulness, that of gratitude, which I likewise find core to personal and professional success in law school and in legal practice more broadly. Like mindfulness, my sense is that gratitude has a long and storied presence across cultures and eras, and that it has gotten short shrift in our consumer-driven, mobile-friendly, distraction-laden world. In both cases, in my view, we have lost something, and to recapture it will redound to great personal and professional betterment.
Interestingly enough, across the various trends of thought and belief that emphasize the benefits of gratitude, the primary beneficiary of giving thanks is expected to be the one who gives it, not the one who receives it. Certainly, I have been in no shortage of leadership seminars where the importance of expressing gratitude to others is emphasized as a means of boosting their morale and improving their performance. And I do believe that the community to which we aspire at UC Law can only be built through frequent giving of thanks to one another, to support each other in overcoming respective challenges. Yet an even more common sentiment with respect to gratitude overall is that of Solomon in the Qur’an, who proclaims that the one who gives thanks, gives it for the benefit of their own soul, and the one who withholds it, withholds nothing from the Lord, who remains giving and abundant. More secular expressions are perhaps even more obvious—I don’t imagine many believe that Alanis Morisette is thanking everything from “India” to “consequence” out of any expectation that this will, or even should, do something for the recipients of her gratitude.
Speaking only for myself, I view gratitude as providing the framing on which mindfulness is built, and out of which personal and professional success can be achieved. When one is mindful, they are aware of all that is around them. When they are grateful, they frame that into a mindset of positivity that then helps shape how they carry out their lives. The point is not delusion—to count blessings and not problems does not entail inventing blessings and denying problems. Instead, it is to frame a life around the riches in hand, rather than those out of reach. Where the latter leads to envy, resentment, and the building of a culture of toxicity and distrust, the former leads to positivity, contentment, and a shared mutual commitment to support each other to the betterment of all.
I do not think I am as grateful as I can be. Years ago, I think I struggled even more. I might have wished I was making more money, or was better recognized by colleagues for my scholarly achievements, or had offers to teach at law schools that were higher ranked on US News. I suppose in my failings I fell into the trap many do—of believing that somehow where mindfulness was a practice, gratitude was a disposition that required no work. One was simply grateful or they were not. Years of prayer, meditation, and journaling have managed to convince me of that which I wish I had known better years before—that gratitude is, like kindness and awareness, a state of being that comes about only through consistent practice, and that, as human beings, we are all capable of backsliding from time to time. Continuing the practice and being as forgiving of myself as I try to be of my friends and family are the only way I have managed to forge ahead, to the extent I have been successful at all.
It has taken me years, which is why I emphasize it alongside other core virtues that also take years, from cultivating deep relationships to building awareness. To my mind, this is the foundation upon which the skills you are developing in law school are built. So long as the foundation is solid, the skills will come. You do not need three years to learn how to brief a case. You will need much more than that to be at peace with your own thoughts in the most tumultuous of times, and grateful for all that you have when rejections or defeats, and with them self-doubt, start to pile up. This happens to all of us after all, me very much included. Knowing how to write a killer brief will not get you up when life throws you that punch, but mindfulness and gratitude will.
So I encourage you to consider a gratitude journal, where you note down three things you are most thankful for each morning, before you start your day, or each evening, when you end it. Make it a regular practice to think of a few blessings you have when your mind takes you to a few problems. And, when someone does something nice for you, small or large, just say thank you. It might very well make their day. And it will, over time, do wonders for yours.
Take care of yourselves and one another,
In my various meetings with students over the past four weeks, I am often asked whether I visited Cincinnati much as a child, which is after all only 90 minutes from my home town of Columbus. The honest answer is that unless Mason, and specifically King’s Island, count as “Cincinnati”, then I did not. I can, however, point to a specific trip I made to Cincinnati as an adult, in June of 2003, shortly before returning to Baghdad to live and work for three years. The singular purpose of this trip was to visit the Contemporary Arts Center, which had been designed by the Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
By 2003, every Iraqi I knew was aware of who Zaha Hadid was—Iraq’s premier architect, from a nation that had no shortage of them. A year after completing the CAC, she would win the Pritzker—the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architects. She had been the subject of much international acclaim, and was for many of us a source of inspiration, including those, like me, who had no real experience with or training in architecture. We also knew something else. When selected to design the CAC, she had only completed three free standing buildings in her life, and none in the United States. She had faced formidable barriers entering the construction world as a woman, an Iraqi, and a Muslim.
None of that became easier after she was selected, and groundbreaking began in May of 2001. This was a difficult time in Cincinnati of course, only a month after the killing of Timothy Thomas and the unrest that followed. It was also soon to be a very dark chapter in the American Muslim experience as well, following the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. All of us remember the tragedy of that day, the senseless loss of life, and, of course, the aftermath that followed. Those we had thought of as friends and supporters repeated rumors and lies respecting immigrant schoolchildren knowing the towers would fall days before they did, thereby giving credence to the calumny that we were all in on it. More than one person I considered a friend asked me what I thought of the attacks, as if there was somehow a possibility that someone who had spent so much of their life working in social justice and human rights causes would deem the targeting of an office tower a justified military venture. And, of course, I have never since been able to enter or leave an airport without worrying about whether I will be “randomly” stopped for additional security measures, which seems to happen on nearly every international trip and quite a few domestic ones, to this day.
I thought at the time that the CAC would surely rethink its decision to continue with Hadid. That she had nothing to do with 9/11, and that everyone knew that, was as obvious to me as it was naïve. Neither did I, and yet I still pay a price, more than two decades later. Yet they stuck with her, and Zaha Hadid’s first American building was opened to the public in May of 2003. I saw it three weeks later. And, from that time forward, to any who mocked Ohio on the East Coast, where I spent so much of my adult life, I would frequently point out that Cincinnati, and not New York, Washington, or Boston, was the place where Zaha Hadid made her American debut.
It would be pretty to connect in a straight line that visit to my acceptance of the Deanship of the University of Cincinnati twenty years and two months later, when the University of Cincinnati appointed America’s first Muslim law dean. Yet life narratives are never so clean. As Hadid once said, and as her work has demonstrated to us all, the world is not a rectangle. Nobody is disturbed because they can’t find a clean corner in Burnet Woods, a stone’s throw from where I sit now. My journey, like the trails of Burnet Woods, has been convoluted, winding, and wonderful, as all are, and I hope to tell you more about it in future messages.
Instead, I only tell you this story to make a single point. What the Contemporary Arts Center chose to do in selecting Zaha Hadid as their architect showed remarkable courage, when safer options were available. I, and countless other Iraqi Americans and Muslim Americans living in very difficult times, took note of that courage. We appreciated it, and we honored it. And twenty years later, when an opportunity came my way in Cincinnati, I certainly remembered it.
I hope we all can work on trying to find it within us to extend that same kind of courage—I’ll call it Cincinnati courage—to fellow members of our community when the opportunity arises. Extend a hand to a classmate who is struggling under the weight of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse. Speak up for another who feels voiceless, and let them feel heard. Empower, enable, and, if nothing else, show your fellow students you see them. It might seem like a small thing to you. And it might end up meaning the world to them.
Take care of yourselves and one another,
As excited as I am in beginning my service as the 27th Dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Law, this fall marks a wistful occasion for me as well. For the first time in 16 years, I will not be teaching Contracts in the fall semester. I will not be walking into a large classroom full of newly minted, excited, and ambitious law students to begin teaching them about the law of binding promises. That has long been a great joy for me, and one I am sad to forsake.
This is not a lamentation—I very much want to be your Dean, and I cannot be your Dean effectively, certainly in my first year, if I am also trying to teach a first year course at the same time. Instead, the point is that teaching Contracts, and the sense of reward and satisfaction I derived from it, helped keep me focused on why we professors do what we do. We are teachers first and foremost. Beyond the important and impactful scholarship we produce, and the vital service to the profession that we provide—all work in which we take the greatest pride— in the end, we work in law school to educate and inspire our students to pursue justice and advance the role of law in society. I am privileged to work with an incredible staff that I know shares the same priorities and seeks to advance the same mission. Whatever our differences, on the principle that our students come first, we are all in agreement.
The irony, of course, is that as the leader of an institution which exists to educate and inspire students, I find myself more isolated from students than I would be as a faculty member. I therefore need to be more intentional in reaching out to all of you, and to maintain a steady and consistent line of communication, so that you are aware of all that we are doing as a law school, and all that I am doing as your Dean, and you are able to communicate to me your own commitments and concerns, for us to take into consideration as we plot our future course. To that end, I have planned biweekly drop ins with the Dean, designed exclusively for meetings with students, along with lunches with 1L students, regular meetings with the SBA and leaders of other student groups, including the affinity groups, and, of course, this blog, written for students, on issues of student concern.
So, I hope you will take a little time every other week to read this Dean’s Corner Blog. I hope if you are a 1L, you will sign up for a lunch, and if you are an upperclass student, you come to a Dean’s drop in. I hope you follow me on Instagram and Twitter (@cincylawdean), or LinkedIn (under my name). If you are an athlete (or, in my case, pretend to be one), I hope you will follow me on Strava. I promise to do the same. I want you to get to know me, and I want to be sure to get to know all of you. I look forward to our future connections, and to building a bright future for UC Law together.
Take care of yourselves and one another,