Tulane Home Tulane Home

Law faculty conclave focuses on provocative research

June 08, 2017 7:45 AM

With exams and the spring semester behind them, Tulane Law faculty gathered looking out over the Mississippi River on a sparkling sunny day for rejuvenating debate: What about trust in government in the Trump era? Can a legal case be made supporting reparations for wrongful enslavement? How can the law accommodate rights for nature?

Easy topics like that.

For the fourth year, some three dozen faculty members met for a day of exploring their colleagues’ works in progress — on topics timely, compelling and boundary-pushing.

Professor Robert Westley, for instance, tries to use legal doctrine to address a political problem — exploring whether reparations are a proper response to the damage caused by slavery. He described his research in Berlin studying Germany’s redress for Nazi atrocities. Not lost was the current significance: New Orleans, once home to America’s largest slave market, was in the controversial midst of taking down four Confederate monuments, two of their sites within walking distance of the symposium venue.

Professor Oliver Houck’s paper on the rights of nature takes on an issue that is making its way through state legislatures, into the laws of other countries and even into United Nations doctrine. Other faculty members underscored difficult questions: If animals have rights, do humans have the right to own them? Aren’t the scales inevitably tipped away from successful legal claims if humans have to file — and eventually decide — any such claims?


The Tulane law faculty started meeting for a day-long, end-of-the-year symposium in 2014 to immerse themselves in ongoing research and get feedback designed to strengthen their work. The event builds on their weekly lunchtime workshop, at which professors critique works in progress presented by their colleagues and visiting scholars.

“This symposium is a wonderful showcase of the breadth and originality of Tulane’s scholarly community,” Dean David Meyer said. “At the end of a busy academic year, it’s refreshing to re-engage with one another over the work that inspired each of us to enter the academy.”

“I think everyone of us walks away from the symposium with a renewed appreciation for the staggering diversity of expertise on our faculty and how extraordinarily fortunate we are to be able to learn from one another.” 

Tulane Law underscored its emphasis on faculty scholarship in 2013 with the appointment of Professor Adam Feibelman as associate dean for faculty research. He has taken the lead in promoting faculty members’ research and expanding on the range of workshops and lectures that Tulane sponsors, particularly multidisciplinary collaborations with Tulane University’s Murphy Institute.

Generous donor support also has enabled the law school to extend that breadth of its research mission. Former Tulane Law Dean Paul Verkuil and his wife, Judith Rodin, endowed the Paul R. Verkuil Faculty Research Fund in 2014 to provide research funding for “high-performing faculty members who present especially promising projects.”

Retired trial lawyer Gordon Gamm (L ’70) and his wife, Grace, also are supporting faculty endeavors through the Gordon Gamm Faculty Scholar award, which each year gives a selected professor resources to expand on research and engagement with other scholars and the broader public. Gamm scholars have hosted a major national conference on anti-discrimination law (Professor Saru Matambanadzo); an international conference on comparative law (Professor Sally Richardson); and a conference of top scholars on corporate and securities regulation in conjunction with Tulane’s renowned Corporate Law Institute, an annual gathering of power-players in mergers and acquisitions (Professor Ann Lipton).

A new addition to mix is the Sher Garner Faculty Scholar Endowed Fund, endowed by New Orleans law partners Leopold Z. Sher (A&S ’74, L ’76) and James M. Garner (E ’86, L ’89) to help faculty members bring their research before public audiences. Professor Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane’s premier sports law program, was named the first Sher Garner Faculty Scholar in 2017. Sher and Garner, who co-founded the Sher Garner Cahill Richter Klein & Hilbert firm, also endowed the Sher Garner Fund for the Advancement of Commercial Law in 2015, enabling Tulane to host conferences, lectures and other scholarly events focused on business and commercial law.