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Author: Frank Wu


My American Name

When I was a kid growing up, I wished I were named Smith instead of Wu. I wished I were named Smith, because I believed that if that were the case then I would not face teasing and taunting, the childhood cruelties of the playground. Of course, I had an “American” first name. My parents, immigrants from China, had given me that name, but they used another name at home. They made the distinction between public and private, because they understood how important it was to assimilate. Other Asian American children were assigned a name by a teacher who likely believed herself to be doing the kid a favor. Or they announced to their elders that they were choosing their own nickname in an act of American rebellion.

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Making Change

I need to adjust my attitude. As a teacher, I find myself increasingly intolerant of ignorance. The problem, however, is that I also am intolerant of the ignorant. In my profession, the former may be acceptable, but the latter is not. There are two recurring examples I encounter in the world that never fail to prompt me to lament the state of our educational system and believe the end is near: the virtually universal inability of people to make change without a calculating device to do simple subtraction (with coins, the result must be a number of no greater than two digits, but an astonishing number of people are baffled if you hand them an odd amount above the total in order to receive, say, a quarter in return), and the common question, “what state is Washington, D.C. in?”

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Who Could Be Hired Today?

The trend in hiring law professors with graduate training in other disciplines as well as law degrees is not new; it’s been underway at least since I was a student (1988-1991). Some of the best classes I took were with individuals who had such backgrounds. But the emphasis has become even more intense in recent years. It is no longer considered obligatory to put in a few years doing actual legal work, before signing up for the AALS faculty recruitment conference.

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What I’m Looking For

In Professional Responsibility, we just covered Model Rule 3.4(e), which states in part, “A lawyer shall not . . . in trial . . . assert personal knowledge of facts in issue except when testifying as a witness, or state a personal opinion as to the justness of a cause, the credibility of a witness, the culpability of a civil litigant or the guilt or innocence of an accused . . .” I actually make it a point to mention this Rule in virtually every course I teach. I do so to counteract the common tendency among not only students but the general public to preface statements and arguments with, “I believe” or “I feel,” or as if it became more persuasive, “I strongly believe,” or “I really feel.”

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The Post-Handed Presidency

I have always wanted to be left handed. As a teenager, I actually tried an experiment that lasted only one day, of using my left hand for as many mundane tasks as possible. Stabbing my gums while brushing my teeth, I managed to confirm first-hand (no pun intended) that these tendencies appear to be more or less hardwired.

I thought of that juvenile research project recently, after moderating a discussion among civil rights leaders about race. Like so many commentators following the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States, this little group had gathered to consider whether we are living in an era that is “post-racial.” For them, the inquiry is more than an intellectual exercise; it affects their life’s work, which is premised on the notion that race matters.

The reason I thought about left-handedness is, of course, President Obama belongs to that minority group. His defeated opponent, Senator John McCain, does as well. Indeed, a disproportionate number of our leaders — five of the last seven occupants of the White House – have been southpaws.

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