Education

A remembrance of Michael A. Olivas (opinion)

Michael A. Olivas, when explaining why he switched from getting ready for the priesthood to turning into a lawyer, usually stated, “I used to be a lot better at afflicting the comfy than I ever was at comforting the bothered.” His dying late final week at age 71 was a shock to everybody working on the intersection of upper training and the regulation, particularly as a result of many people had been shepherded there by Michael himself. Whereas others can converse to his huge contributions to legal guidelines supporting faculty entry, just like the prime 10 p.c plan in Texas; his advocacy for undocumented immigrants, together with the Deferred Motion for Childhood Arrivals program and the DREAM Act; and his contributions to regulation faculty management itself, I’ll deal with what I do know greatest: Michael’s position as a mentor.

I used to be launched to Michael in 2003 by Darryl Greer, my boss on the New Jersey Affiliation of State Faculties and Universities. He had met Michael greater than 25 years earlier when Michael—then a graduate pupil at Ohio State College—lobbied Darryl, then the assistant to the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, on behalf of migrant farmworkers so they may set up residency and qualify for in-state tuition at Ohio’s public faculties and universities. (Michael tells the story right here, beginning on the 8:45 mark.) In 1982, Michael helped set up the Institute for Increased Schooling Legislation and Governance (IHELG) on the College of Houston’s Legislation Middle, which hosted a biannual Increased Schooling Legislation Roundtable for brand new college members with J.D.s and Ph.D.s. I had neither a college place nor a doctorate on the time, however Michael appreciated my analysis proposal on copyright possession of on-line programs at public establishments and invited me to the 2003 roundtable.

It was the start of a wonderful and an sometimes horrifying friendship. Michael’s critiques of written work might be withering, however his reward—when supplied—was effusive. He helped flip my paper from the roundtable into two IHELG monographs after which into two regulation evaluate articles. He even cited one article in his indispensable casebook, The Legislation and Increased Schooling: Circumstances and Supplies on Faculties in Courtroom (“obtainable in wonderful bookstores all over the place,” as Michael would say).

Michael had a manner of closing his eyes tight, turning his head and showing to float off in thought. That was the look on his face—beamed in through Skype—at the beginning my dissertation protection. Michael was my outdoors reader and designated regulation skilled, and oh my God, was he asleep? I ought to have recognized higher: he fired off a query that received to the center of my analysis and allowed me to speak for some time and ease into my presentation.

Excellent news on any entrance—getting my Ph.D., receiving a promotion, publishing an article—elicited a well-recognized one-word Olivas electronic mail response: “Yayyyyyyyyyy!”

When Michael obtained the College of Houston’s highest award for college excellence in 2001, he stated, “I consider that nurturing younger professionals, particularly younger professors, is the very best calling and probably the most rewarding vocation.” In my case, he phrased it a bit otherwise: “If I may help in any manner on the job entrance, be at liberty to make use of my identify, and I’ll lie my ass off, er, um, converse in your behalf.” Michael lied his ass off … er, um … served as a beneficiant reference many occasions over time.

Michael’s humor had a joyous borscht belt schtick. If a joke bombed throughout a presentation, he’d faucet the microphone and ask, “Is that this factor on?” Delivering the Clifford Scott Inexperienced Lecture at Temple College’s Faculty of Legislation in 2015 on an injured foot, Michael stated he was “elevating cane” and proceeded to explain the rights of undocumented and “DACA-mented” college students. For years, Michael made it recognized that he would love Jimmy Smits to play him within the film about his life.

Michael’s community turned my community. Too busy to just accept an invite to function professional bono counsel to the World Council of Comparative Schooling Societies, Michael beneficial me, and the place has led to relationships with fantastic students throughout the globe. As his “man in New Jersey,” I used to be deputized—together with leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union and different authorized students—to report updates on legal guidelines and laws associated to residency, in-state tuition and monetary help for the databases Michael maintained on states that permit and limit entry to larger training for undocumented college students. The case of a U.S.-born pupil in New Jersey who was denied state-based monetary help as a result of her mother and father had been undocumented significantly flummoxed Michael.

Like many nice mentors, Michael shared his private life and distributed household knowledge. He was a proud Mexican American with deep roots in New Mexico, which knowledgeable his work. Whereas nearing retirement from his 38-year profession on the College of Houston, the place he held the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Legislation—and the place he additionally served as interim president of the UH Downtown campus in 2016–17—he stated he was perfecting the “adoring gaze” at his beloved spouse, Tina. One in every of 10 kids, Michael spoke usually of his prolonged household. Entrance-row tickets to a Houston Rockets recreation made one among Michael’s nephews assume that “Uncle Michael is the good uncle.”

The depth and breadth of Michael’s authorized experience set an instance (an unattainable one) to emulate. On the 2017 convention of the Affiliation for the Research of Increased Schooling on the day he obtained the distinguished profession award—a day you’d count on him to take a scholarly break day—Michael gave a detail-filled presentation on the problem of undocumented legal professionals, the DACA program and occupational licensing. Making an attempt to satisfy this Olivas-esque normal, I not too long ago accepted an invite from the Journal of School and College Legislation—the place Michael was a longtime member of the editorial board—to write down an article on the rights of stranded college students, although I’m no skilled on the problem. The Trump administration’s journey bans, the COVID-19 pandemic and the warfare in Ukraine present loads of trenchant examples, however I used to be very a lot wanting ahead to getting Michael’s suggestions.

Michael was the very mannequin of a contemporary main generalist. He was an skilled on John Updike earlier than he turned a lawyer. After I was in contact with him final month, he supplied some opinions on music, one other of his nice passions. (He went as far as to trademark the phrase “The Rock and Roll Legislation Professor” as host of the Legislation of Rock and Roll radio present and podcast.) Whereas preparing for his latest knee surgical procedure, Michael advised me, “You’re No. 1 with a bullet on my listing” for a letter of advice he was getting ready. I responded with a photograph of the Billboard Sizzling 100 from April 4, 1964, when the Beatles held the highest 5 spots. “These had been the times, my pal,” Michael replied. “In the present day: Encanto on the prime of the listing, astride the world.”

Michael Olivas was himself a colossus bestriding the worlds of upper training, regulation and immigration, and I used to be fortunate to have been amongst his posse. I’ll do my greatest, in my small manner, to hold on his custom of afflicting the comfy and serving as a mentor. And Jimmy Smits—is that this microphone on?—the position of a lifetime is ready for you.

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