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James Huffman

September 07, 2011


Erskine Wood Sr. Professor of Law and Former Dean of the Law School

Years of Service: 37

Joining Lewis & Clark: I grew up in the Rockies, so I was interested in a job in the American West. That ruled out California, by my standards, and left only two open jobs I was aware of—one at Puget Sound and one at Lewis & Clark. My best friend and climbing partner, George Priest, got the job at Puget Sound and I came to L&C. That left Mount St. Helens right in the middle for weekend climbs. I was also strongly influenced by being hosted for dinner at the home of Ed and Helen Belsheim when I interviewed. Even then it was an impressive statement on behalf of the institution. That experience led Leslie and me to host as many events as possible at our home during my years as dean of the law school.

Favorite courses: It’s a hard question to answer after 38 years of teaching. I loved jurisprudence because it attracted students interested in ideas as well as in getting their ticket stamped. Torts was great fun, and easy to teach. First-year students can identify with the cases, which are more like short stories than legal cases. In recent years, I have especially enjoyed law and economics. Even the skeptics take on the challenge of understanding how the useful tools of economics can help them to think about legal issues and public policies.

Affirmation of passion for teaching and research: For me, the best part of teaching comes 20 or 30 years after you have a particular student in class. Then you see him or her in a fully developed career and personal life and see that, in some small way, you might have made a contribution. Perhaps the best part of serving as dean of the law school for 13 years was the opportunity to see literally hundreds of people I had taught in the past. I was always amazed at what they had accomplished.

Most memorable moment: To dedicate Wood Hall on the law school campus, I invited U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to speak. He asked me if there would be protests. I said, “Of course there will be, this is Oregon.” He graciously accepted the invitation, and there were protests. Before a crowd of 1,500 people in Pamplin Sports Center, at least half of whom knew, upon entering, that they despised the justice, Scalia disarmed the lot of them with an engaging and thoughtful speech. Upon driving through the protesters after the event, Scalia commented: “Well, at least they spelled my name correctly.”

People might not know … that I once raised chickens in Multnomah Village and sold eggs at the law school. I have switched to tomatoes. At the end of May, I had 78 tomato plants in my garden—3 each of 26 varieties, all grown from seed in my greenhouse.

Favorite place on campus: Lou Wood’s study, located off the dean’s office in the law school.

What I will miss: Seeing some good friends on the faculty and staff.

I’m most proud of: The creation of the Western Resources Legal Center. WRLC is an independent 501(c)(3) devoted to providing clinical education to law students interested in representing resource development interests. As dean, I sought to establish WRLC as part of the law school. Against strong resistance, I failed in that effort. Subsequently, it was created as an independent entity within the law school, providing credit to students who work under the tutelage of WRLC.

What’s next: More than I can mention in a brief response. At the top of my list are several writing projects; continued involvement with Oregon Republican politics; hundreds of books to read and thousands of insects to collect; more rivers to run and mountains to climb; more time at our cabin in Montana; and enjoying the company of my wife, my kids, and my grandkids.

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