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.
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.