Emory Law School Dean Mary Anne Bobinski speaks at a Sept. 27 law symposium celebrating the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949/Jessie Wang, Contributing

Amid recent controversies surrounding Emory Law School, Dean Mary Anne Bobinski addressed the use of racial slurs in class and her vision of the school’s future in an exclusive interview with the Wheel.

Bobinski became the first woman dean in the school’s 103-year history on Aug. 1 of this year. She will remain in that position for five years.

Addressing Recent Controversy

Prior to Bobinski’s appointment, Law Professor Paul J. Zwier II was placed on paid administrative leave after reports that he used the N-word on two separate occasions in front of students in Fall 2018. On Sept. 9, two Emory Law School adjunct professors were accused of using the same racial slur in their respective classes.

Bobinski said that although the incidents involving Zwier occurred before she came to the school, she feels responsible for learning how such events impact the law community.

She noted that the incidents involving Zwier occurred in contexts different from those that occurred under her tenure and that Zwier’s incidents should be evaluated separately. The Wheel reported that Adjunct Law Professor Robert Saunooke, who is Native American, used the word while explaining how racial slurs are used to describe Native Americans. 

Zwier allegedly used the slur word while discussing the case Fisher v. Carrousel Motor Hotel, Inc., which does not include the N-word. 

Bobinski stressed that the University should consider such events alongside its values of academic freedom and its stance against discrimination. She noted, however, that these values can occasionally come into conflict.

“Emory has very strong commitments around academic freedom and the ability of faculty members to determine how to best teach their subject matter in order to facilitate student learning,” Bobinski said. “At the same time, Emory is strongly committed to ensuring that students are able to pursue their education without worrying about discrimination or harrassment.”

Bobinski said the Law School provides a variety of educational resources to faculty and students to help facilitate better decision-making that balances the values of academic freedom and anti-discrimination. 

She said that first-year law students receive training about unconscious bias during orientation, while full-time professors gain access to resources about sensitivity and bias in classrooms. Adjunct professors, who often come from outside the Law School, will receive similar resources, according to Bobinski. 

“Starting this year, we are also expanding that type of support to include adjunct faculty, who may be members of the legal profession who come back and offer their expertise to the law school,” Bobinski said. “It’s a wonderful strength — we have over 100 adjunct faculty participating in our academic programs, but we want to make sure that they too have access to the same level of information so that they can think carefully about sometimes difficult topics.”

Bobinski reiterated that each case involving the use of racial slurs should be examined separately and stressed the importance of debating the role of these words in academia. 

“One of the positive aspects about this is that it shows how very important it is within Emory, within universities generally and within society broadly,” Bobinski said. “There is a lot of interest and concern about what is the role of academic freedom, what are the obligations of universities to try and ensure that they’ve created an environment free from discrimination and harassment.”

Re-Envisioning Legal Education

Bobinski also highlighted several School of Law programs that she hopes will help reimagine traditional legal education, such as the Experiential Learning program and the Juris Master degree, during her five-year tenure.

“The traditional model of legal education that used to be in all the movies was a very wise person, perhaps somewhat intimidating, [who] would stand in front of a classroom with a very large group of students,” Bobinski said. “That’s a wonderful model, but it only addresses part of what students would need in order to go out and serve clients and society.”

The school’s Experiential Learning program provides first-year law students with the opportunity to explore legal areas of interest through real-world experience. This includes classes on trial techniques and transactional law, as well as legal clinics and externships. 

She said that up to two-thirds of the graduating class will have participated in at least one externship, which is similar to an internship but often shorter and provided in partnership with the school. 

Bobinski noted the importance of the Law School’s Houses program, which divides first-year students into smaller groups and allows them to connect with older students and faculty. She said her favorite experiences since starting her position have been visiting students at House dinners. 

“I met with students who are already small business entrepreneurs who are looking to connect with our business and transactional programs to international students who have a keen interest in learning about the U.S. legal system … and taking that knowledge back to their home countries,” Bobinski said.

Under her tenure, Bobinski said she would like to expand the number of topics traditionally taught in legal education and increase the range of audiences for whom legal education could be relevant. She said the Juris Master program is an important step to achieving this goal, as it provides legal information and courses to people who do not intend to practice law but could benefit from a greater understanding of the law. 

Prior to joining Emory, Bobinski served as the dean of the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia from 2003 to 2015. One of her major accomplishments was the construction of Allard Hall, the first new building for a Canadian law school in 30 years.  

Bobinski said she is considering plans to renovate or replace Gambrell Hall, which was constructed in 1972.

“I’ve had some conversations in the University about the topic of the building,” Bobinski said. “There is a perception that there may be an opportunity for either a significant renovation of the building or potentially [a] look at a new building.”