Q&A with outgoing interim Dean James Gardner

As Professor James Gardner wraps up his time serving the School of Law as interim dean, we asked him to share a few of his thoughts about his accomplishments as dean, the lessons he has learned, and his future plans in academics and in music.

As interim dean, you've accomplished quite a lot in a short period of time. What are you most proud of?

 I’m most proud of progress we’ve made in programmatic initiatives.  We recently received final State approval to offer two new LL.M. programs, one in Cross-Border Legal Studies, and the other in Environmental Law.  But the program I’m most excited about is a new program of undergraduate education leading to a BA in Law.  Once we receive final approvals from SUNY and the State, we will be only the second law school in the country to put the resources of a law faculty to work educating undergraduates.  The program will use the traditional techniques of legal education to train undergraduates for careers in which the ability to navigate a legal environment is a plus, but that do not require a level of training necessary to practice.  

What is the most valuable lesson that you have learned as interim dean?

 I learned two things that, unfortunately, contradict each other.  First, leadership requires a truly extraordinary amount of hard work.  Second, there are not enough hours in the day for any human being to work hard enough to be a fully effective leader in every dimension.  As a result, leadership involves a constant process of deciding, more or less, on which aspects of the job you will turn in a mediocre performance.  For someone like me, who wants to do well on everything, this was a very difficult truth to come to terms with.

Will your experience as dean impact how you teach or how you interact with students?

No, definitely not.  One of the least satisfying parts of the job was the distance it put between me and the student body.  I am looking forward to getting back into the classroom and resuming a much closer, more intimate, and ultimately more productive relationship with students.  It is really important to me that the school produce really effective, well-trained lawyers; I’m looking forward to diving into this mission again much more directly.

As your tenure as interim dean comes to an end, what are you looking forward to most?

Besides getting back into the classroom, I’m really looking forward to dusting off long-deferred research and writing projects.  My co-author and I just finished up a new edition of our Election Law casebook, and I’m relishing the thought of putting it to work in the classroom.

What are your immediate plans after June 25th? What are your long-term plans?

In the short term, I have a leave and then a sabbatical that will last me through the 2017-18 academic year.  I will use that time to work on some scholarly projects in the areas of federalism and election law.  In the long term, I plan simply to resume my former life as a UB law professor – just about the best job in the world.

Any updates on your music career?

My bassist and I have just been engaged to play once a month at Merge, on Delaware Avenue, so look for us there.  I also hope to use some of my free time in the next year to write some arrangements.

photo by Glenn Murrey