Faculty toast outgoing M-Law School dean

By Katie Vloet
Michigan Law Communications

At times, the faculty dinner honoring Evan Caminker’s decade-long deanship approached the tenor of a roast, such as when Associate Dean Mark West told the story of Caminker forgetting his passport at home, requiring West to track it down, reroute his own flight, and meet with the dean at the Los Angeles airport.

First, though, “you had me retrieve it from your home, on a Saturday, after giving me the wrong house number, which resulted in me visiting a house in which you no longer reside, across the street, waking the baby who now resides there.”

West added: “These are the kinds of stories we are not telling tonight because this is a not a roast, it is a celebration.”

Much of the April 11 dinner, indeed, was an earnest tribute to the tireless decade that Caminker has spent improving the Law School with new facilities, curricular improvements to better prepare students to practice law, and the hiring of well-regarded faculty members.

Still, some jokes snuck their way into the speeches, many of them about Caminker’s fondness for detail and tendency to send emails at all hours of the night.

“He’s been a fantastic dean, by any measure,” said Professor Kyle Logue, who was associate dean for two years during Caminker’s deanship. “He is completely honest and beyond
reproach, he is almost super-humanly hard working, he is conscientious and careful, he is deeply committed to the Law School, and he also happens to be one of the nicest people you will ever meet. There is not a mean bone in his body.”

Logue also poked fun at Caminker’s reputation for thorough deliberation by referencing Buridan’s donkey, a philosophical paradox in which the animal is placed at the midpoint between a stack of hay and a pail of water.

The story assumes that the donkey will go to whichever is closest to him, but since neither is, he cannot make any rational decision to choose one over the other. He dies of thirst and hunger.

Caminker is different from the animal, Logue said: “It’s not that Evan weighs equivalent options until he is unable to take action, and dies; it’s that he weighs seemingly equivalent options until everyone else around him dies.

Rebecca Eisenberg, the Robert and Barbara Luciano Professor of Law and chair of the building committee that oversaw the South Hall and Aikens Commons construction projects, applauded Caminker for making both buildings possible.

An earlier plan, she said, became too costly, and “we could easily have ended up with no building at all.” Instead, Caminker worked with architects on plans for what would become the South Hall academic building and the Commons.

Throughout the process, she said, Caminker “took painstaking care of every detail” and learned nearly enough to become an architect himself.

“Thank you for being the dean who finally gave us something we needed so badly, for so long,” Eisenberg said of the buildings. “We couldn’t have done it without your great leadership and your relentless dedication.”

Sarah Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for admissions, financial aid, and career planning, joked that Caminker’s appearance belies his personality and work style.

“This is a deeply deceptive man. It all starts with the hair,” she said — hair that suggests a California surfer, a carefree and easy-going guy. None of that, she said, could be further from the truth for a dean who focuses on every detail of every project, day and night.

“This hair,” Zearfoss declared, “is a liar.”

She added that “we have gotten our money’s worth out of Evan, (who) has been working on the Law School and the welfare of the Law School in every waking minute of the day — and we all know, with Evan, that nearly all minutes are waking minutes.”

Richard Friedman, the Alene and Allan F. Smith Professor of Law, praised Caminker for having “the mind, the heart, and the soul of a scholar. It’s my personal hope that you’ll spend at least much of the rest of your career back here at the Law School, after your richly deserved sabbatical. We will have our arms open to welcome you home.”

West announced a gift from alumni: the naming of the outdoor walkway on the south side of South Hall. It will be called the Caminker Arcade.

West introduced Caminker by reviewing many of his accomplishments, many of which have been overshadowed by the most visible of his achievements: the Commons and South Hall.

He pointed out that Caminker has been a national leader in curricular development; created the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program to put the Law School at the forefront of entrepreneurial law education; worked to add classes and programs that will make students practice-ready without sacrificing the School’s doctrinal strengths; spearheaded the revamping of the School’s loan repayment program; created an in-home mini-seminar program in which students and faculty can interact in casual settings; and much more.

“I do hope you feel the love in this room. It comes not because of what you’ve accomplished but because of who you are,” West said. “Everyone in this room will agree with me when I say that you are one of the most fair minded, thoughtful, committed, and generous people that we’ve ever met. You treat people fairly, you are completely straight with people, you keep your word, you show genuine concern for other people. … You’ve created a culture of integrity and respect, a culture that defines who we are, what we do, and what we aspire to be. You are Michigan Law School; you embody the things that we cherish, the things that make us great.”

Caminker spoke to close out the evening. He thanked the faculty and senior staff for supporting him, and his wife, Stacey, for her insightful advice through the years.

And he joked about having a farewell dinner long before the August 31 ending of his deanship, the day before West follows Caminker as the Law School’s 17th dean.

“It feels a little odd to be marking this occasion when there’s at least four months before I’m going to let Mark West start messing with my stuff,” he said.

In response to the many questions he has fielded about the next step in his career, he spoke of a vocational aptitude test he took in seventh grade, which determined he would be a good lawyer, architect, or florist.

He’s tried the first two, he said, so “it seems like my trajectory is clear.”


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