Faculty Spotlight: Professor Dan Farbman

BC Law Impact Editor’s Note: We pride ourselves at Boston College Law School on our unique community that cultivates an incredible student body with a brilliant faculty. This post is part of an ongoing faculty spotlight Q&A series to help students get to know the members of our faculty on a more personal level.

What do you like most about BC and why?

As hokey as it is to say, the answer is the students. I have found it to be universally true that the students are super happy to be here, kind to each other, but also really open minded in the very best sense — the sense of being able to come into class and just engage with wherever we go. So, if we’re talking about something difficult, the students are open to it and respectful with each other, but also really curious. It’s easy to create really rich academic environments because there’s sort of a low barrier of entry for the students. Compared to other teaching I’ve done at other places, I’ve just found it incredibly gratifying to be able to come into a classroom and know that, whatever you bring to the classroom, students are going to be up for it. Even if they’re sometimes surprised or off-balance, they’re not hostile, and so that means you can really do stuff in class that otherwise might be harder to do.

What is your favorite BC story?

I’ve been one of the people who has been working on this new class, the Critical Perspectives class. And the story behind that class is something that relates to what I was saying about the students, in that it’s the story of the students who organized to ask the faculty to change the 1L curriculum.

And so the story begins with the students, a bunch of whom I’d known from teaching a class called Movement Lawyering last year, because some of the students who were doing the organizing were in that class and we talked about it a little there. And I was just impressed by the way they themselves were so deeply connected with the student community and drawing on different sets of observations and wisdom within the student community to frame out the requests that they were going to make of the institution. And then they came and they gave this amazing presentation to the faculty that was making a set of demands but wasn’t confrontational; it was in the spirit of generosity, curiosity, and almost empathy. But it was a very powerful presentation.

And then, the faculty’s response was not to say, “Ah, students. Let’s go back to our normal business.” But rather the faculty took it really seriously because they all respect the students so much. So even the faculty who were not sure about next steps, their intuition was to say, “Well, if the students are asking us for something, we need to listen.”

And so our imperfect, slow, but also kind of radical movement to start this new class was something the faculty decided to do because they respected the students so much. The students had built this movement, and then they had come in and the faculty had heard them and respected them and acted. And that to me really summarizes what makes BC special, is that it’s not perfect — nothing’s perfect — but that relationship of real respect and real listening I think is a powerful one.

What do you do for fun?

Well I have two young kids, so there’s not a ton of free time. But probably my biggest hobby is cooking. I’m the person who does most of the cooking in the house, and although my kids have constrained my adventurousness in that area to some extent, when I need to find some meditative space or some happy, non-academic space, it’s frequently in a time spent cooking for the family.

I also have an unhealthy relationship with the Red Sox that I’ve never been able to escape, but I wouldn’t call that “fun” so much as “an unhealthy obsession that I frequently try to moderate when I can.” It’s less fun and more a necessity.

Do you have any advice for prospective students or 1Ls?

One is that law school is a total experience. It’s totally immersive. So it’s important to think about where you want to immerse yourself and in what context you want to immerse yourself. I think when you’re not in law school, it’s easy to think about things abstractly, but in fact it’s really different to be a 1L at BC and a 1L at BU. And I’m not impugning BU — I’m not saying bad things about other places — but it’s really different to be a student at different places, and that means you’re learning different things, your classes are structured differently, your curriculum might be different.

The thing I always tell people when they say they might go to law school is, “Go to law school if you want to be a lawyer.” And I think related to that is, “Go to the law school where you see yourself.”

And that can have all sorts of considerations, including geography and, you know, rankings exist. But it also is ultimately a pretty personal decision about what kind of community you want to be in and how you want to be in it.

The other piece of advice I give to students is that law school isn’t some foreign place, it’s just school. They’re very different places and they have different cultures, but ultimately a classroom is a classroom is a classroom, and a teacher is a teacher is a teacher, and a test is a test is a test. And I think usually what students do when they find their feet is realize that they’re just in school, and that’s often harder to do than it should be, but ultimately that’s what the story is.

Tess Halpern is a rising 2L at BC Law. Contact her at halperte@bc.edu.

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