Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ´95 (center) is among a distinguished panel of guest speakers attending Visiting Professor and Former Congressman Mickey Edwards' (left) seminar, "Law and Public Leadership for Social Change" this semester. Dean Haddon (right) has attended the lectures, held every two weeks in the Ceremonial Court Room.
Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ´95 shared her experiences in public leadership as part of Visiting Professor and Former Congressman Mickey Edwards’ seminar, "Law and Public Leadership for Social Change" on Tuesday, March 23. Among the various aspects of public leadership that Mayor Rawlings-Blake discussed included her transition from City Council President to Mayor, and how her legal background has significantly impacted her in serving the public.
"To say that it is gratifying to bring together life experiences, work, and education to be able to solve the city’s problems is accurate," she said. "What I like best about working in public service is trying to make the community better -- Baltimore is a city with a great past and a great future and I remain optimistic of what this city can become."
Mayor Rawlings-Blake talked about ways to improve City schools, public safety, and neighborhoods despite the challenge of a historic $120 million deficit, citing the progress that has been made throughout Baltimore over the years, which has included an increase in student enrollment in City Schools for the first time since 1969, a rise in elementary and middle school reading and math scores, and the extension of the Newly Constructed Dwelling Property Tax Credit that encourages people to build and renovate homes for families in Baltimore.
Members of the Law School community also had the opportunity to ask Mayor Rawlings-Blake questions, which included further conversation about the mayoral transition process, the relationship between working as a public defender while serving on the City Council, the status of indigent defense in Baltimore, and ways that the Law School community can increase its involvement in serving members of the Baltimore City community.
"Mayor Rawlings-Blake exudes an aura of hopeful diligence, without being idealistic or overly ambitious -- this is exactly what Baltimore needs," said Joseph Stovall ´10, who was inspired by the talk.
In addition to the Baltimore City Mayor, other speakers have included Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Thomas E. Perez, Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Civil Rights.
"The whole idea is taking your legal training and using it for good," Professor Edwards says. There's nothing wrong with preparing wills, writing contracts and defending clients. But, he adds, "We're trying to get lawyers to do more than that."
Professor Edwards, who also serves as vice president of The Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, has offered the "Law and Public Leadership for Social Change" seminar at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and he also teaches at Georgetown and George Washington. But this is the first time he's taught the leadership course at a law school.
Professor Edwards, 72, exercised his own leadership skills during an eight-term tenure in the House of Representatives as a Republican from Oklahoma, becoming chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. He started his career as a journalist, and earned a JD on the side. He turned a lifelong passion for politics into a staff job on Capitol Hill, and became a candidate when, he says, "I decided I could do the job better than they were doing."
While he's glad not to be part of the "nastiness" he sees in Congress now, Edwards says he misses having his hands on the levers of power and "being able to take direct action." On the other hand, he tells his students: "You can change society without holding elective office. You can say, 'I'm sick of this,' and change it."
In his seminar, students study social movements with an eye on the leaders, their messages, allies, and strategies. They also look at how lawyers helped the movements succeed, whether by using their expertise in certain areas of law, through court challenges, or by helping to change laws. Professor Edwards, who still claims his conservative Republican credentials, says he doesn't care which side of an issue his students take so long as they are sincere about trying to help society.
The class is part of the School of Law's LEAD (Leadership, Ethics, and Democracy) Initiative. Among other things, LEAD aims to help future generations of lawyers conduct their careers with a goal of improving their communities and with their values intact.
The rise of social media has made it easier in some respects to promote causes, says Professor Edwards, but it is also easier to be led astray by bad information. At the same time, he adds, major media are becoming more polarized in their viewpoints and - instead of simply reporting verified facts - are more willing to promote agendas.
"There's a change in standards," he says of journalism, because people tend to go to news outlets that reflect their existing beliefs.
"Sometimes, if you get an honest picture of the other side, you may change your mind."