“[B]etter followers beget better leaders.”
Through the years, I have been fond of a set of expressions I sometimes use to underscore the importance of an idea or a cause I believe important and worthy of personal or institutional investment, or both. The expressions fit together like this: our society has a particular problem that needs attention; our colleges and universities, being institutions broadly representative of our society, also have this problem (as we should expect); we need to work on this problem in our colleges and universities; if we cannot solve this problem in our institutions of higher learning, then I have little hope that our society will be able to solve it; our law school needs to set an example for the rest of the university as to how we can work together to solve the problem.
When I articulate this message in a speech, conversation, essay, or dean’s column, my goal is invariably to persuade the listeners or readers to action—not just to join me in supporting a cause, but to join together to make change happen in our own community, with the hope that when we improve ourselves, our example will spread outside our immediate community and influence even broader change. On most occasions when I present this message, I direct my comments toward the importance of valuing diversity, respecting others and rejecting intolerance, and preserving and promoting human rights and dignity. In that context, the implications of the appeal are obvious: promoting these values in our community makes us better, which is important in its own right; however, it is even more important that our society make progress on these values, too. If our institutions of higher learning are unable to progress, then it is hard to imagine how our larger society will find a way to improve. This message is appropriate in many other contexts as well, simply because many issues to be addressed within a law school community are also present in the broader university and the larger society outside it.