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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Congrats to Mark Yudof

In the fall of 1977 and spring of 1978, Mark Yudof was my first-year section's Contracts professor at Texas Law School. I especially remember him for his very dry wit, and he was quite engaging — a raconteur of a professor, teaching with relish that most essential and transformative of first-year law school subjects.

He was famously, at least then (in those days not yet so wracked with political correctness), a cigar smoker — a habit that seemed entirely congruous with the bushy mustache he then sported. On the final day of class in the spring semester, before our final exam, the topic was to be one he'd skipped over earlier — the parol evidence rule. But by pre-agreement among a large majority of our roughly 90-person section, at precisely 10 minutes after the class began (as marked by one of those institutional wall-clocks at the front of the classroom whose minute-hands move in precise one-minute clicks), most of us pulled large cigars from our backpacks and began unwrapping them. (Indeed, most of them had been chosen solely for their size.) This was followed with conspicuous cutting, or biting off and spitting, of cigar ends, and much flaring of matches or lighters, and exaggerated puffing. In moments, a dense cloud of gray-blue smoke had enveloped the entire auditorium classroom.

Yudof, standing at the bottom of the class behind the lectern, had done a fine job of pretending to ignore the cigars for a full two or three minutes, but the volume of students' coughing and sputtering and, I think, the number of students whose complexions were trending seriously waxen-to-green, convinced him to give it up. "Okay, fine!" he declared, slamming shut his casebook. "But I can tell from here that they're very, very cheap cigars!"

That turned into the cue for most students to put their cigars out, and for the sets of double-doors at the top of both aisles to bang open. Down the steps of each aisle bumped a set of hand-dollies, which in turn carried a trashcan with a well-iced keg of Lone Star beer. "Don't think," shouted Yudof over the growing din of an early-morning party, as someone handed him the first beer, "that the parol evidence rule won't be on your exam!"

"Inadmissible!" someone shouted back, and "It'll be on the bar review course!" shouted someone else.

Mark Yudof Since then, I've had only occasional contacts with Mr. Yudof. During my second and third years of law school, he was among the faculty resources from whom I often solicited recommendations for book reviewers on behalf of the Texas Law Review, and I spoke with him briefly when he was among the academics hired to consult on the Pennzoil v. Texaco appeals in the mid-1980s. Yudof had risen to the deanship of Texas Law School for ten years, and thence to executive vice president and provost of the UT System, before spending a few years as president of the University of Minnesota in the late 1990s. He returned to become chancellor of the UT System in 2002, but he also has held the Charles Alan Wright Chair in Federal Courts at Texas Law School.

And now I read — with the pride natural, I think, to any of his many former students (because he kept up teaching law for many years in addition to his administrative duties) — that he's slated to become the president of the University of California System: "The UC regents' committee this afternoon recommended Yudof for the job overseeing the 10-campus system, which is widely considered as the nation's best collection of public research institutions." Well, I suppose that's so. But I do hope and trust that he will not take with him to California the UT Law charitable contributions mailing list!

I congratulate him, and wish him luck in his new position. He is a fine educator and scholar, one to whom I owe a long-standing debt of gratitude. I don't indulge in even the occasional cigar any more, but I will buy, and consume with due reverence, a six-pack of Lone Star long-necks to toast his success.

Posted by Beldar at 09:53 PM in Current Affairs, Law (2008), Trial Lawyer War Stories | Permalink


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(1) Michael Myers made the following comment | Mar 21, 2008 12:15:11 AM | Permalink

Ah the keg of beer on the last day of class! Mr. Yudof/Professor Yudof would have enjoyed our last day before the Christmas Break tradition at Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley. The 3rd year students came in and serenaded every class on the last Friday before the break. Their appearance was the signal to adjourn class to go across the street to the Sigma Nu Fraternity house where many kegs of beer (and bowls of gosh awful mulled wine) awaited. If you had three or four classes that day, you could get pretty sloshed.

My first year Property Law professor (Michael Heymann) went on to be dean of the Law School, then Chancellor for the UC Berkeley Campus, then head of the Smithsonian Institution.

There are and were some pretty remarkable people teaching first year law students around the country, and I wish them all, including Professor Yudoff, well.

(2) Bruce Wollenberg made the following comment | Mar 21, 2008 12:53:48 PM | Permalink

I am a professor at the University of Minnesota and I must add my congratulations to Mark Yudof and to the University of California. His years here at Minnesota are remembered by many as a wonderful period of innovation and renewal of the Minnesota campus and the university's internal attitudes. We still see the results of his changes to the campus and feel the effects of programs he started.

(3) Scott made the following comment | Mar 22, 2008 9:23:26 PM | Permalink

The man made Contracts INTERESTING???

Truly a god amongst men... :)

(4) DRJ made the following comment | Mar 25, 2008 4:49:00 PM | Permalink

This is not intended to take away from your affection and respect for Dean Yudof, but he can't compare to David Epstein.

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