The Catholic University of America

By His Family, Ye Shall Know Him|William Fox, Assoc. Dean for Academic Affairs|Margaret A. King, Associate Dean for Institutional Advancement |David Schrock, Director of Financial Aid

By His Family, Ye Shall Know Him
By Rev. Raymond C. O'Brien

"Hey, how about the new dean? What do you think about him?"

hese were the questions that greeted me from the first warm days of spring until now. Like anyone with access to the official web site I knew that Doug Kmiec formerly taught at Notre Dame, Indiana and Valpariso law schools; that he had practiced law in the Justice Department and a Chicago law firm; and that he held a chair and was teaching at Pepperdine Law School in Malibu, California, when he was chosen to be dean here. Plus, I could read that he had authored many articles and several casebooks and treatises, all related to teaching in the areas of property, jurisprudence and what I take to be his favorite, constitutional law. The web site makes a good case for this being a man for academics, a man for our seasons of teaching, scholarship and service. And I knew he was Catholic, was told he was a conservative Republican, ran miles each day, and had a huge family.
With this bit of web site data and information garnished from law school colleagues, my interest was piqued. Because I spent the summer teaching at Loyola in Los Angeles, I decided I would call and ask if the dean-designate and I could meet for lunch. I had been to the Pepperdine campus before and hoped we could meet there. For those of you who have not visited the campus situated in Malibu, overlooking the Pacific, imagine Valhalla, the mountain domain of the gods. The law school shares the same view as Barbra Streisand and a few other gods and goddesses. The dean was very gracious when I called, but suggested that instead of meeting on campus I join him and his family for dinner. This is good too since I knew he lived on Pacific Coast Highway, a bit closer to Santa Monica, and best of all, I would be able to meet his family. I accepted immediately and we set a date and time. Parking is easy on Pacific Coast Highway; it's dodging the speeding cars as you cross which is difficult. On one side of the road is the open glittering Pacific and on the other the dean's house.

He and his aging dog met me at the door and we walked immediately into the kitchen. Everyone was there and a quick glance told you that the life of the house emanated from the kitchen and the adjoining huge family table where the Kmiec children were setting napkins, knives and forks and bowls of vegetables and a goodly amount of chicken. This is a healthy family: lots of good California produce and fat-free dessert. Surely he and his wife are in training for all the dean's official dinners ahead! We began dinner with a prayer; the dean led us in the blessing, all eight of us and the dog. Afterwards bowls kept passing back and forth, the Kmiec third oldest kept my diet coke filled, the two youngest popped up and down to retrieve something or the other, we laughed a lot, and everyone talked at the same time. It was a family; I loved it!
After dinner I expected a quiet conversation with the dean when we would discuss the solemn responsibilities facing him, just the dean and I, like priest-penitent. Instead, still sitting at the head of the table he asked: "Father, we were planning to play some cards. Would you care to join us?" Now for those unfamiliar with clergy etiquette, let me share with you that this is not usual HAVING FATHER TO DINNER routine. But I was having a great time and while I said I would be delighted I quickly took mental stock of how much money I had brought, whether I remembered poker rules from college, and whether it would be polite to win. Or maybe I would lose? Perhaps this was the start of the dean's fund raising efforts.
The youngest of the Kmiec children, twin girls about to enter the seventh grade and possessing more personality than the April Cherry Blossom parade, produced the playing cards, a scoring pad and the rules. This was not to be poker. Instead we were to make words with letters on the cards and each letter had a different number; weird letters had higher numbers and thus a higher score. Wow! I thought, I may lose this! This was a family that had just analyzed the recent Supreme Court decisions that day; I did not see a television anywhere; where was the pervasive music that engulfed every California event; I wonder if they will let me use Latin words. We started.

I think the dean got the first word, some arcane word that he probably read during a snow storm in Indiana. I should have challenged. But the oldest Kmiec child, one now in his first year of law school in California seemed stumped and the dean's wife kept shuffling her cards back and forth. There was hope for me. Maybe. Just then I hear a voice. The second Kmiec child, a daughter who works outside Los Angeles in corporate communications whispered a word in my ear which incorporated most of my cards. Hey! She was looking at my hand. But she was right and it was my turn and I was on the map with a respectable word and lots of points. The kindness of strangers! It became apparent to me that cards at the Kmiecs was not about winning, it was about having a good time and the best news is that I won. I would like to say that I beat everyone, but that is not true. The eldest Kmiec child asked to be excused in the middle of the game so he could greet high tide across the street surfing in the Pacific. Just wait until he comes home next summer for August in Washington.
So now that school has started what do I think of the new dean? I now answer that question with the answer: "He has a great family." He does. I think that is the best that can be said of any person. He has come into an environment where every day is a new one and every constituency asking: "What have you done for me lately?" I am sure there will never be a decision, a speech, a class, an event which will form an indelible mark; a dean is a moving target. But he has a great family. His third oldest child, now entering into his senior high school year in Washington seemed to me the one with most to lose in the trans-continent move. But when I asked him what he thought about leaving his co-ed Malibu school for an all-boys Jesuit academy, he grinned and said: "Well, we're all going." And so true it is. So much depends on the dean. If Dean Kmiec can bring to this law school family what he has brought to the one coming from Malibu to Washington, then with all our aspirations it's going to be good because he seems to be able to make it possible to say: "We're all going."