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Monday, July 04, 2016

A Belated Eulogy, Of Sorts

Before I begin blogging in earnest, I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about Dan, given that I haven’t blogged here since before his death almost two years ago.  I am a little hesitant to offer any kind of eulogy, not just because it is so late in the day but also because I’m not sure I can say anything about Dan that hasn’t been said before, with much more eloquence than I can muster.  In addition, I didn’t know Dan as well as some did.  I had met him only a handful of times IRL (as the kids say), including being on a panel with him about five summers ago.  Nonetheless, the magic of the internet – blogging and Facebook – gave me the illusion that I knew him better than I actually did, and I knew him well enough to be utterly shaken to the bone upon hearing of his death.  In any event, I don’t think anyone will mind if I add a few thoughts.

Something that surprised me in the days and weeks following that awful day was the realization that Dan was both younger than I and had entered academia a year after I had.  He was one of those people who was such a mainstay of legal academia, and seemed to fit there so well, that he seemed to have always been there.  Most of us need our first few years to get our feet wet and figure out what we are doing before we truly become engaged with others in the academic world.  Dan seemed to hit the ground running and I find that truly remarkable.

The second thing I wanted to talk about was the subtle influence Dan has had on me in my role as Associate Dean for Faculty Development at my school, a role I took on just after Dan died.  In that kind of role, one has to strike a good balance between being a critic and being a cheerleader:  be too much of a critic and people will shut down and not listen; be too much of a cheerleader and you’re not helping people improve.  I feel like Dan struck that balance quite well.  He had a way, at least in my limited experience with him, of cutting to the heart of things and exposing the flaws in your work, but doing it in such a way that you could still feel good about your work and yourself, and you had a desire to improve it.  I am still struggling to emulate him in that way.

My thoughts these days are about Dan, not just because I am blogging here again, and not just because of the recent breaks in his case, but because we are only a few days away from CrimFest!, the conference that Dan created with Carissa Hessick.  For several years, it had been a shadow conference within the Law & Society Association conference, but Dan and Carissa decided in 2014 to establish it as a standalone conference.  I don’t know how many people realize this, but Dan died the day before CrimFest! 2014 was supposed to start.  Instead of looking forward to seeing him and our other colleagues in the criminal law/procedure/justice world, we were exchanging e-mails about whether the conference should go on at all.  It did go on and that was one awful plane ride.  I felt as if I were headed to a funeral, not an academic conference.  My mantra the whole way was:  “This is going to suck.”  And you know what?  It didn’t suck.  There was a hastily but beautifully prepared memorial for Dan during lunch the first full day of the conference and many tears were shed.  Some people offered brief memories of Dan as they began their presentations.  But the conference went on as planned because (and I know it is cliché but it is also true) that was the best way of honoring him.

CrimFest! 2016 – those who knew him better than I have said that Dan would insist on the exclamation point – begins this coming Sunday.  CrimFest! has become a mainstay of the academic world for us criminal law/procedure/justice folks, and it has become the highlight of my year from a professional standpoint.  I hope it will be with us for years and decades to come, and I believe it will.  The two-day exchange of ideas, both formal and informal; the camaraderie of a cohort who all speak the same language; the warmth of catching up with old friends and the welcoming of new faces into the club; and, of course, the socializing, whether over bagels or beer – it’s all so . . . Dan.

Posted by Michael J.Z. Mannheimer on July 4, 2016 at 11:21 AM in Dan Markel | Permalink

Comments

Really nice post. Agreed on striking the critic/cheerleader balance well, if not evenly -- a bit towards the critical side, I think, but that's more useful anyway and as you say, in a way where you wanted to improve.

Posted by: Jason Solomon | Jul 4, 2016 2:02:19 PM

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