George Alexander: Visionary and Friend
By Alan Scheflin, Professor, Santa Clara Law
This year, George Alexander and I celebrated the 40th anniversary of our friendship. I can say without hesitation that I have never known a more gentle, more elegant, more dignified, more noble, more caring, and more visionary person.
I first met George in 1973 when he hired me to join the faculty. In those early days, Santa Clara’s mission was mostly to train local lawyers for local law firms. Our physical facilities were limited, our resources were limited, and our student body and faculty were relatively small in number.
Led and inspired by George’s unique ability to see beyond the status quo, George’s vision was of a global law school populated with students who were invited to use their legal talents to make the world a fairer and more just place. In those days we called it “public interest” lawyering. Today we call it “social justice.”
Although the social justice agenda found universal favor, George’s dream of a global law school was harder to sell. Many of the faculty, and the central administration, were comfortable with the more limited mission of training local lawyers. It was at this point that I learned how miraculous George was in persuading, ever so calmly and methodically, those who did not agree with him. He was a master of the “soft sell.” Because he disliked confrontation, he preferred instead to show recalcitrant colleagues a path that would lead them to acceptance of his proposals. Santa Clara’s pioneering international programs became the gold standard by which similar programs at other law schools came to be measured by the American Bar Association.
Globalization for George also began on campus. He actively recruited students from across the country, thereby creating a marvelously diverse population that brought new ideas, customs, and perspectives to the Law School. The result—Santa Clara’s name spread across the United States as well as across the world.
George’s amazing, if not insatiable, curiosity infused the curriculum with innovative courses. From antitrust to high tech, from international law to elder law, from intellectual property to space law, George’s fertile mind expanded the course offerings available to students and opened the door to areas of specialization for the faculty.
To our mutual delight, we began co-teaching a seminar on Law and Psychiatry. Over the years, because we knew what each other would say about a certain case, or statute, or scientific study, it became our practice to attempt to generate a new angle or argument to catch the other off base. Whenever we walked into class, we did not know whether the other had prepared an intellectual ambush. The excitement of that possibility was exhilarating. George and I agreed that the experience of co-teaching the seminar was the most rewarding experience we ever had in the classroom.
Teaching with George began a habit that I have no intention of stopping. I talk to George in my head all the time. Whenever I would read a new case or see a news story that I know would interest, delight, or intellectually infuriate George, I would imagine our future conversation. Even though he can no longer answer me, I continue to have the same excitement—“George will be curious to learn about this,” or “I can’t wait to get George’s reaction to that ….” In this way I continue to think of him, and speak to him, every single day.
The Law and Psychiatry teaching experience led us to write a casebook for the seminar. We had more fun, and more provocative and stimulating discussions, on that project than we could ever have imagined. We met constantly and were in regular communication with each other as the process of putting the book together progressed. Law and Mental Disorder is a book we are very proud to have written.
George and I went on to teach in the summer programs abroad and to co-present talks at international conferences. Although he was a very private man, he would open his heart from time to time. What an honor and privilege those moments have been for me. I loved George. It has been said that a person is alive as long as he or she is remembered. I will continue to love and remember George for the rest of my days.