There once was a woman who was assistant dean of student affairs at a fourth-tier law school. In her freshman year of college, this woman's favorite class was English 2.2, Introduction to Fiction. Her instructor had the class read many books she loved, including Hardy's Jude the Obscure. She was the only student who raised her hand when the instructor asked the class the meaning of the book's epigraph, "The letter killeth."
"I think it means 'the letter of the law,'" the girl who would become assistant dean of student affairs at a fourth-tier law school had said back then. "That's what really messed up Jude and Sue's lives so much."
This woman's life was not as messed up as those of Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead.
Her biggest disappointment was that after getting a Ph.D. in English, she could not secure a full-time job as a literature professor. After years of scraping by as an adjunct lecturer teaching composition and remedial writing, she decided to go to law school and eventually ended up as a law school administrator.
Sometimes she took a special interest in certain students. For example, there was one student she kept a close eye on because he reminded her of her only nephew: the young man had the same first name as her nephew and was the only South Asian male in his first-year class. (Her nephew had been born in India and adopted.)
This student did not get good grades his first year. In fact, at the end of the academic year, his grade point average was below 2.0 and he was on academic probation. But because the student had recently moved and had not given his new address to the law school, the letter about academic probation sent in May never reached him.
It was only in late November of this student's second year, just before final exams, that he was surprised to learn that he was on academic probation. He had come in to see the assistant dean about another matter entirely.
The assistant dean of students told him that he needed to get his grade point average up to 2.0 by the end of the spring semester or he would be academically dismissed after spending a lot of hard work and over $60,000 on two years of his legal education. Then she said, "You're not an officer of any student organization, are you?"
The student said, yes, he was vice president of the Business Law Students Association. The assistant dean just nodded.
Her supervisor, the associate dean, had told her to report anyone on academic probation who was violating the rule against such students being an officer of an organization.
The assistant dean decided not to tell her supervisor about the Indian young man because he might feel embarrassed having to tell his fellow students why he was resigning in the middle of the academic year. She hoped his fall grades would soon lift him off academic probation.
Unfortunately, the young man received a D in Family Law and his grade point average fell even more after fall semester grades were in. The assistant dean knew this because he was one of the students whose grades she had checked herself, out of concern for him.
It was a big law school, and weeks could go by without her seeing any particular student.
But one morning a few weeks into the spring semester, she was walking across the law school atrium and saw this young man sitting by himself at his laptop computer. She crossed over to his table and got his attention. He took the iPod buds out of his ears, and she whispered, "You've got to get your grades up to a 2.0 this semester."
The student nodded, and she told him to please see her if he needed any help. She knew nobody else at the law school would make the same offer.
When she got back from her meeting, she found an e-mail from this student. The subject line was "Revealing Confidential Information in Public."
The student chastised her for doing just that, reminding her that under federal law, she could get into a lot of trouble – maybe even lose her job – for being as indiscreet as she had been with this student in the atrium.
At home that evening, the woman found her dog-eared old copy of Jude the Obscure.
The next morning, she resigned her position as assistant dean of students. She realized she could no longer in good conscience continue to set such a bad example for future attorneys.
About the author:
Richard Grayson is the author of several books of short stories, including With Hitler in New York, Lincoln's Doctor's Dog, I Survived Caracas Traffic, and The Silicon Valley Diet. Recent work has appeared online at Cautionary Tale, The Shore, Dreamvirus, VerbSap, and The Quarterly Staple.