Dean Caminker's Blue Jeans Lecture: The Good, The Bad, and the Utterly Surreal
By Katie Vloet
April 11, 2013
Ten years ago, Dean Evan Caminker was trying to think of ways for students and faculty to interact less formally than the typical Socratic exchange in a lecture hall. On Wednesday (April 10, 2013), he lifted himself up on a desk at the front of room 100 Hutchins Hall and talked about "mom jeans" and dancing with Jane Fonda.
Dean Caminker gave the 2013 Blue Jeans Lecture, presented by the Law School Student Senate, a speaker series that he created. Now in the final months of his deanship, Dean Caminker was asked by the students to highlight his Top 10 funny, surreal, and unexpected moments. Check out our image gallery from the event.
Wearing blue jeans (what, you expected a three-piece suit?), Dean Caminker confessed that Admissions Dean Sarah Zearfoss, ’92, often ridicules his attire and accuses him of wearing "mom jeans," which he claims not to understand. He also pointed out that the first person to give the lecture was Professor Mark West, who has been named the next dean of the Law School.
Dean Caminker talked about "crazy student rumors" that he has heard in recent years, including professors engaging in unseemly behavior. "They’re all false," Dean Caminker assured students.
During the funny and lighthearted talk, he mentioned rubbing elbows with celebrities—and not just in his native Los Angeles, where he danced with Jane Fonda on the day she was nominated for an Academy Award and drank wine with Jodie Foster at her house (he apparently never made it out of the JF portion of the celebrity alphabet). He expected few celebrity encounters once he moved to Ann Arbor, so he was surprised to have renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma pour champagne for him and, a few years ago, to meet his childhood hero, pitcher Sandy Koufax. The latter encounter was at an event honoring Michigan Law alumnus Branch Rickey, 1911, who integrated Major League Baseball by signing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Dean Caminker asked the audience, largely made up of students, a trivia question: Whom did Koufax say was the most important hitter to get out? Nobody in the audience knew the answer, which we'll reveal at the end of the story.
Another trivia question: He asked if anyone knew why his daughters' pet rats are named Vicky and Vali. One student accurately answered: Because of "Hail to the victors, valiant …", a reminder that the L.A. native has become a diehard Wolverine.
Dean Caminker talked about spending a week in a maternity ward in China when he needed an emergency appendectomy during a Law School trip; becoming "an architect and construction manager" as he learned the in-depth details about the building of South Hall and the Aikens Commons (go ahead, ask him about the difference between split-face and seam-face granite); yodeling on both floors of the Commons to test acoustics; and walking the sidelines during a Michigan football game with Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan.
He discussed the 2006 Above the Law contest in which he was voted "Hottest Male Law School Dean," and how his unimpressed wife said, "Geez, honey, this doesn’t seem to be a very competitive pool." Still, "I was a band geek and a debater in high school and college," he said, so he was pleased that ATL came up with "a narrow-enough beauty contest I could win."
For one of the items on his list, Dean Caminker read to the audience the strangest email he's ever had to send to faculty and staff. It was about coffee. More to the point, pouring left-over coffee out of windows. Much more to the point: Pouring coffee out of windows from the western-facing Stacks offices onto construction workers who were building the Aikens Commons. "Perhaps one could engage in reasoned debate over the propriety of that means of liquid disposal anytime between 1958 and 2010. Perhaps," Dean Caminker wrote. But, given the circumstances, he wrote, it was important to keep the workers "whistling while they work" and not exposed to "raining coffee." He suggested tossing nothing out the windows heavier than "a lofty idea or the occasional invective."
He closed with the response to the Koufax question: Who was the most important out? Answer: The batter right before Hank Aaron. Most other pitchers focused on the big guys, trying to strike out the likes of Aaron, Willie Mays, and Mickey Mantle. What Koufax knew was that keeping the lesser batters from reaching base was vital; against the mighty Aaron he would win some and lose some, but holding Aaron to a single run at most would help Koufax win in the end.
Dean Caminker thought Koufax's answer offered an important lesson for him, as well as for the students who attended his talk: Think strategically; take your time, and don't let your ego or a spur-of-the-moment impulse dictate how you play the game. Play to your strengths. When you lose, try to lose small; when you win, win big. And remember that baseball—like the pursuit of a degree, a career as a lawyer, or life itself—is a long season.
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