Coming Home Again

Former College of Law Dean Thomas Sponsler, J.D.
Former College of Law Dean Thomas Sponsler, J.D.

By Thomas Sponsler, J.D.

Editor’s Note: Thomas Sponsler, J.D., served on the College of Law faculty from 1968 to 1983 and then as dean from 1983 until 1989. He returned to campus last fall, taking over former professor Stephen Higginson’s classes, and remained for the spring semester as well.

It has been quite an adventure to return to New Orleans and to Loyola after a 22-year absence. What has changed the most I found, was unfortunately, me. While some of my former colleagues are still active on the faculty, they had aged in place, slowly and subtlety over the years. When I left, I was young, running up the steps, two at a time, and skipping down them. Now I was hanging onto the railing for dear life. Students had always complained that I talked too fast. My response: “I don’t talk too fast; you listen too slowly.” Now I would occasionally stumble over words or use the wrong one. Interestingly, that improved as the semester went on. I guess “use it or lose it” applies to the little gray cells as well as to larger muscles. My plight was made worse by numerous well-meaning students telling me that their parents and employers had had me as a professor. One even found an old exam on reserve in the library and pointed out that it had been administered on the very day he was born! I finally had to announce in class that if I had had anybody’s grandparent as a student, I didn’t want to hear about it.

Loyola has changed. There are more buildings on the main campus and a lot less open space. The university seems much more complex to me with a much larger staff. I attended a university-wide convocation and was struck by how many more women were on the faculty than when I left.

The same trends are present at the College of Law. There is now a handsome addition to the building and a wonderful new clinical facility nearby. Although the size of the student body seems similar to what I knew, there are many more faculty members and administrators than in my day, and both the faculty and the student body are much more diverse in terms of gender, race, and national origin: students seem to come from a broader array of undergraduate schools around the country. Both tuition and student grade point averages have risen substantially.

Since leaving Loyola, I have had a number of experiences with other law schools and have noticed how nurturing Loyola is to its students compared with many law schools. Fortunately, that is still the case. Students have a rich array of social and extracurricular activities available to them as well as resources to help them navigate the pressures of a professional education. Programs that were just starting when I left, the skills program and foreign programs, have grown and flourished.

The parts of New Orleans that I frequent have never looked better; there is a sense of progress and energy far greater than in the past. Unfortunately, pervasive political corruption in the area, violent street crime, and pretty bad drivers are still with us. I have been impressed and moved by many stories of the horrors of Katrina and the heroic efforts of the area to overcome its losses. It is encouraging to see the resiliency of the people and the new channels of progress opening up.

I have had a great experience that few people can have: to come back to a place one treasures and experience it once more after a long absence. At least occasionally, one can come home again.

View the complete spring 2012 issue of Loyola Lawyer.

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