What if law schools were charged with never letting a student fail on their dreams?

In this story by Brendan O’Shaughnessy in Notre Dame Magazine, I’m reminded of Emil T Hofman, a chemistry prof at Notre Dame for four decades and Dean of the Freshman Year of Studies for about three decades, who felt 18-year-olds were too young to know what they wanted, much less to fail on their dreams.

Farther Ted Hesburgh, then president of the university and Emil T (as he was both affectionately and hatedly called on campus) did as much as anyone other than my parents shaping my belief that anything you can dream is possible.

Emil T figured that If Notre Dame accepts the best students they should be treated right. That meant giving them a flexible academic program with time to decide on a major, and helping them to succeed and like the University.

I remember to this day sitting in Emil T’s office, which almost on top of the Grotto telling him I was failing, that I totally blew it by going for an engineering degree and drawing a four credit F in advanced calculus and a D in Fortran for about a 1.3 gpa (it was the B- in Emil’s class that saved me). Another semester on probation and I’d be kicked out of the University.

He told me he and the University wouldn’t let me fail. He, and later the assistant dean of business school, who worked with me later on, didn’t let me fail. I graduated with my dream intact.

From the Notre Dame Magazine story,

Ray Sepeta ’75Ph.D., a counselor who worked under Hofman for nearly 15 years, says the dean had clear expectations of his team. He never gave up on a kid, Sepeta says, and held the counselors responsible for failures. Sepeta remembers a moment revealing that Hofman lived his beliefs.

Sepeta was advising an impoverished student from the West Coast who was struggling on many fronts at Notre Dame. Hofman joined one conversation and learned that the woman wanted to go home to see her family on break but couldn’t afford it.

“I watched Emil pick up the phone and pull out his own credit card and pay for her ticket home,” Sepeta says. “I’m not sure if she realized how unusual this was. He had a belief that our kids will succeed at any cost.”

The vast majority of twenty-sum year old law students are too young to know what they want and are certainly too young to fail on their dreams.

Is it too much to ask law school deans, professors and administrators to believe that their kids will succeed at any cost?

It’s in the law school’s interest. Notre Dame, which still follows Emil T’s philosophy, fails less than 1% of students and has among the highest percentage of contributing grads of all universities.