Dean Rougeau and the Ideal of Truth

Dean Rougeau was among the first people to speak to my class during orientation. He welcomed us to BC and to the legal profession. Then he talked about truth. This was the summer of 2019 and then, as now, there were concerns that the very notion of truth was being degraded beyond redemption. At the time, an iconoclastic media personality-turned-politician had unsettled what many thought were enduring, if only partial, methods of verifying truth.

We don’t need to dwell on the politics of it. Dean Rougeau didn’t. He just took the opportunity to center truth in legal education and practice. He talked about how our profession’s procedures, norms, and expertise offered one important solution to the challenge our society faced. I was skeptical. But less than two years later, completely unsubstantiated claims of election fraud ran rampant through the public square until they crashed into the brick wall of the courts’ evidentiary standards. He may have been onto something.

But more than endorsing any particular political or even factual truth, I think Dean Rougeau wanted to locate a higher ethic and ideal of truth at the core of legal education. Seeking truth in (legal) education is not ultimately about creating expensively credentialed referees of facts. It’s about embracing truth as an animating force that takes us beyond ourselves, into creative contact with new ideas, and into conversation with one another. Like a committed educator, Dean Rougeau insisted on the necessity of truth without foreclosing dynamic discourse about what it comprises.

In that, he reminded me of a 19th century Quaker educator, one whose advice to students was displayed prominently in a common area at my college, and whose words stick with me to this day:

“I suggest that you preach truth and do righteousness as you have been taught, whereinsoever that teaching may commend itself to your consciences and your judgments. For your consciences and your judgments we have not sought to bind; and see you to it that no other institution, no political party, no social circle, no religious organization, no pet ambitions put such chains on you as would tempt you to sacrifice one iota of the moral freedom of your consciences or the intellectual freedom of your judgments.”

I have never taught but I imagine it is a delicate and frustrating thing, educating with a strong sense of truth and righteousness while also freeing students to think and grow. Here, law may actually be too structured and prescriptive. I know very few people who feel their minds liberated as they learn to “think like a lawyer.”

That is one reason I am glad to see Dean Rougeau moving on to a liberal arts college, in spite of the sting we feel here in losing him. Liberal arts are so named because their study liberates the individual and the society. Law has its virtues but we need engaged minds approaching truth from a range of perspectives. No field has a monopoly on epistemic authority and no profession can singlehandedly meet our demands for truth. I am glad to know Holy Cross will now benefit from his leadership in this important work.

It also seems fitting, though sad, for Dean Rougeau to leave our law school in a Catholic University to lead a Catholic liberal arts college. I can’t help but hear echoes of scripture, John 8:32:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Amen.


Ian Ramsey-North is a rising third-year student at BC Law. Contact him at ramseyno@bc.edu.

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