A Student’s Perspective on the Email Controversy

As future lawyers, students of University of Oregon School of Law are regularly told the importance of professionalism and good judgment. We are told that a reputation can be affected by a single mistake, and that our actions can have greater ramifications than what we might initially suspect. For these reasons, we are instructed by professors to be careful about what we write and we are reminded that sending an email to a specific person does not mean that only that person will read it. Because these lessons are taught to law students repeatedly, I found myself surprised by the recent disturbance caused by Professor Illig’s emails.

For the emails in their entirety

For more information on the faculty meeting mentioned in the emails

Looking at the persons the email was sent to, it seems clear that Professor Illig only meant for his emails to be read by the law school faculty, staff, and two third-year law students. Somehow, the emails were leaked to the website UO Matters, and subsequently were the subject of a blog post on Above the Law, a popular website for legal news. At the time of writing this article, the Above the Law blog post was on the front page of the website.

I will only comment briefly on the subject matter of Professor Illig’s email. While the email is certainly written in inflammatory language, Professor Illig’s views on how the law school is run are of little concern to me. As a student, I have limited information on what is actually happening to keep the law school moving behind faculty doors. And when I decided to study at University of Oregon, I had to trust, to a certain extent, that the professors, deans, and staff here would do all that they could to keep the school afloat. Professor Illig’s emails do not appear to me to be anything other than a difference in opinion on the best way to run the law school. And so as long as Professor Illig’s personal views do not affect his effectiveness as an educator, then I see his emails as no more than office politics.

That being said, there can be no doubt that some of the phrases in Professor Illig’s emails were uncomfortable to say the least. And while a professor has every right to question the actions of a dean or his fellow faculty members, those conversations should be held behind closed doors and not spread across the front page of a popular website. And no matter what audience Professor Illig meant to read his emails, a professional person should never send an email to a large group of people when he would not feel comfortable with the whole world possibly seeing that email.

We might not know who initially leaked the email to UO Matters, but I hope whoever the culprit was is aware that they have likely hurt our law school. Internal matters should be dealt with internally. By spreading the emails beyond our school, the leaker has made a relatively simple faculty dispute into an event that has law students questioning how the law school’s reputation is going to be affected. I do not believe that Professor Illig is without blame in this situation; I think that the sending of his emails to such a large group of people showed poor judgment. But to me, the worse wrongdoer was whoever leaked the email and created a larger problem than was necessary.

And because I hate to end essays by just stating a problem, I also wish to know what any readers have as solutions. There’s no use crying over spilt milk, what can we do to clean it up? Please leave your comments and concerns below.

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6 responses to “A Student’s Perspective on the Email Controversy

  1. Oh please, don’t even try shooting the messenger this time around. Given how often law students, all students, are admonished not to put anything in an email that the would not want to “read on the front page of the New York Times,” (Have I been hearing that exact phrase for over a decade?) it is impossible for me to believe that Prof. Illig did not fully expect his tirade to go viral. Why he might have wanted that is anybody’s guess, and an area far more ripe for conjecture than your simple castigation. Look at the cc list; he sent it out to God and everybody! I’m willing to bet that more than a dozen people forwarded it to UOM virtually upon receipt. The initial speculation on Lawyers Guns and Money blog was that it must be a send up because no sitting Prof would be so naive as to not realize the predictable, inevitable result.

  2. It seems to me that students should be very careful in how they approach this issue. While much of the substance in these emails was inflammatory and may suggest a possibly momentary lapse of judgment, we don’t want to further fuel a fire. This situation needs to stay as internal as possible, and if it builds too much it’s likely we’ll end up in some kind of media forum again.

    However students choose to participate in this situation, they should make sure it’s done through the appropriate channels and in a professional manner. We don’t want to make ourselves look like a joke right in the middle of the admissions season.

  3. I think that we should all consider the larger issue; lack of vision and lack of leadership from the administration. The issue at hand really delves to the lack of funds available within the law school. Mr. Moffits prime responsibility is to network and generate donations. He has failed to do so. I have taken part in many of the most prominent networking opportunities the last few years, and Moffit rarely stays an hour, while our competitor law schools are having dinner and lunch with the firms managing partners. As far as leadership, the dean should have called an emergency faculity meeting and handled this all in house, however I doubt this happened. We need a change, we need a vision. As far as Mr. Illig, he has made a significant effort to bring in additional revenue, rather then cutting to save, he is creating a bigger piece of the pie with the sports law program. I believe he has over 20+ students attending this summer, and that will generate income. The fact that some faculty were notified and some were not shows the true politics of the school, and that is sad. The dean should foster a different environment, rather than be the leader of one of the two sides. It’s time for change!

  4. What is done is done. I have little doubt that Professor Illig is in isolation on this issue. Could it have been handled more appropriately? Of course it could have. Nevertheless, let this be a lesson that, yes, our emails can be nationally published, but they also can be an effective megaphone. Initially I was extremely concerned for the ramifications that the University of Oregon School of Law and students alike will bear as a result. This can have an impact on both future employers and students alike. To me however this shows that all of the professors and factually care about our future. The proposal was a very noble one and those that supported it showed an unselfish passion to the students they teach and support. But everyone is motivated by various intrinsic and extrinsic values. We as students are prime examples of this. Some will climb the ladder to a lavish lifestyle, but not everyone wants this either. As long as the professors and factuality are actively thinking of different ways to support us that is what is important. Each one does this in a different way. I am glad that there are differing views amongst the staff; groupthink can be a terrible thing. Times are tough, but thus is life. Pointing fingers will not solve this issue.
    While my time here has been short, one thing is clear to me, just as much as we as students have shown that we are here for each other, the entire faculty is tenfold in their support.

  5. Pingback: When Facing a Chaotic Job Market, Remember: Chaos is a Ladder | OregonLawBlawg·

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