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Owen Fiss and the Aspirational Conception of Law, 58 University of Miami Law Review 369 (2003)


I want to begin my comments by mentioning something that became extremely apparent to me as I watched Owen and his many students ever the course of this conference. It has to do with what it means to be a "great teacher" – something that is too often overlooked and certainly undertheorized. It is one thing to be a substantial scholar; it is another thing to mentor substantial scholars. The ambition of every great teacher should be to produce students whose achievements exceed his or her own. This can be accomplished only if a teacher – especially one with a substantial body of important work of his or her own, treats his or her methods and ideas as resources for the students, gifts for them to make use of as they see fit – not as a canon or a received wisdom that they are expected to follow, and adhere to, on pain of punishment. The ideas and methods must allow the students to see them as opportunities for growth, permissions to develop their self-conceptions, their understanding of their work, and their understanding of their teacher. If nothing else, this conference displayed that Owen Fiss is a great teacher in precisely this way – and not merely to his students. As a long time colleague of Owen's, I can say that this has been a wonderful thing to experience. Indeed, one can capture this simply enough: Owen is great because he treats his students as colleagues. On the other hand, Owen is Owen, as both George Priest and I can attest, because he is fully capable of treating his colleagues as if they were students: educable and potentially worthy of respect.

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