Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 35, Number 2

A Memorable Year

The launch of a new Ph.D. program is just one of Dean Edward Rubin's first-year accomplishments

by Grace Renshaw Dean Edward Rubin

In less than a year, Dean Edward L. Rubin has accomplished something he believes would have taken years at another institution. Working closely with Chancellor Gordon Gee and Provost Nick Zeppos, Rubin has laid the groundwork for the law school to launch a new doctoral program in law and economics in 2007. The program will be anchored by two world-class scholars, economists Kip Viscusi and Joni Hersch, who are moving to Vanderbilt from Harvard Law School this summer.

For Rubin, the new law and economics program is just one facet of a vision he has cherished for years—one he believes Vanderbilt Law School is well positioned to achieve. A committed scholar whose wide-ranging academic interests run the gamut from administrative to constitutional to criminal to business and consumer law, Rubin is forthright about his reasons for accepting the deanship of Vanderbilt Law School: He wants to reform legal education in two ways. "I want to better prepare our students for modern legal practice before they graduate by going beyond what's foundational in the first year to exploring ways to allow second- and third-year students to focus on particular areas of legal practice," he explains. "I also want to broaden the scope of legal education to encompass the various ways in which the study of law intersects with the study of economics, psychology, biology, business and a host of other disciplines."

Rubin acknowledges a scholarly fascination with bureaucracies. His most recent book, Beyond Camelot (Princeton, 2005), explores his assertion that longstanding skepticism among scholars and citizens about the legitimacy and efficacy of modern bureaucratic government derive from a nostalgic vision of governance on the model of "Camelot"—as a handful of people sitting around a table and working out problems. Yet even though he criticizes those who worry too much about the propriety of the administrative state, he also candidly admits that his patience with bureaucracies is far more limited than one might suppose, given his acute understanding of their inner workings. And Vanderbilt, according to Rubin, offers a situation unique among American law schools: A nimble university administration that is eager to support innovation, a law faculty that works effectively together as a team, and a solid, supportive relationship between the two. "Thanks to the leadership of Gordon Gee and Nick Zeppos, the Vanderbilt administration really believes in innovation and cares deeply about the substance of the educational programs we offer," he says. "The faculty here is deeply committed to working together, which is not the case at every institution. And there's a good relationship between the law faculty and the university administration–they each understand what the other is all about."

Rubin believes that the fact that Gee, Zeppos and Vice Chancellor David Williams hold their academic appointments on the law faculty works to the distinct advantage of the law school. "They really understand law because they are lawyers themselves, which is not a common thing in university administration," he says. "And they also genuinely value innovation."

Rubin's interest in curricular reform dates back to the beginning of his career. After graduating from Princeton in 1969, he returned home to New York City, where he spent the next eight years as a curriculum planner for New York's labyrinthine system of public schools. "New York had just decentralized its school system, and the success of that program depended on providing curriculum support to the newly decentralized districts," Rubin recalls. "I was one of the founding members of a unit that had been set up to provide innovative curriculum support for the districts." While he doesn't draw a direct connection between that experience and the opportunities he envisions for Vanderbilt Law School, he acknowledges that the experience left with him with a lasting impression of the power of an educational curriculum to effect positive change.

During his stint as a curriculum planner, Rubin also discovered an interest in the study of law. Recognizing its potential as a tool for decoding bureaucracies, he enrolled in Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1979. Rubin practiced entertainment law for two years before deciding to pursue an academic career. "I got a position at Boalt Hall [at the University of California, Berkeley], which at that time had the most innovative program in American legal academics," he recalls. "At a time when it was rare for any law faculty to come from outside the legal profession, Boalt had 11 faculty members who were not lawyers, but held Ph.D.'s in other disciplines–economics, political science, sociology, history. The law school offered several degrees, including an undergraduate major, a legal studies major, and a Ph.D. in law. I thought this represented a wonderful opportunity to rethink legal education along interdisciplinary lines."

In 1998, Rubin moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where his wife, Ilene Moore, had accepted a position. "Penn was a wonderful place with an enormously interesting faculty," he says. "Vanderbilt has the same caliber of faculty, and that is why I was attracted to it from the outset."

Rubin's fervor for Vanderbilt Law School's future prospects has proven contagious. In addition to Harvard's high-profile team of economists Kip Viscusi and Joni Hersch, he has worked closely with the law faculty to recruit three new entry-level faculty members—Christopher Brummer, Nita Farahany (who is serving as a fellow on the law faculty this year) and Terry Maroney, along with new Assistant Dean of Admissions Todd Morton, formerly director of admissions at Harvard Law School. "Vanderbilt has had a bit of an inferiority complex," Rubin said. "I don't think some people here realized how good the school is, and how attractive it is. That's something we're striving to convey more effectively."