Earlier this month, students in Fordham Law’s Language of the Constitution course received two unique and memorable history lessons when former Fordham Law Dean William M. Treanor returned to Lincoln Center for his annual class visit.
Treanor, the current Georgetown Law executive vice president and dean, presented a draft of his forthcoming article on the work of the Committee of Style during the final days of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and listened to the class’s 17 students brief him on their own paper topics. In addition, the April 3 class notably featured the presence of a trio of Fordham Law deans—Treanor, his predecessor John D. Feerick ’61, and current Dean Matthew Diller—who shared anecdotes detailing the Law School’s arc over their 30-plus years at the helm.
Feerick, who served as dean from 1982 to 2002, teaches Language of the Constitution with Adjunct Professor John Rogan ’14. The course offers students a closer look into how history informed provisions of the Constitution, the contributions of the framers, and how legal scholars interpret constitutional provisions today.
“It was a very touching moment,” Feerick reflected about the April 3 class featuring Treanor and Diller. “There was a lot of history of the Fordham Law deanship in the room at the same time.”
Feerick hired Treanor, who had worked in the Office of Independent Counsel during the Iran/Contra investigation, onto the Fordham Law faculty in 1991. Treanor later succeeded Feerick as dean in 2002, and remained in that capacity until 2010. One year later, Treanor accepted Feerick’s invitation to guest lecture in his newly re-launched Language of the Constitution course. Treanor has reconvened with the class every year since.
“I have always learned a great deal from coming back to Fordham and talking to Dean Feerick and his class,” said Treanor, who this semester at Georgetown Law is teaching Advanced Constitutional Law Seminar: The Framing and Ratification of the Constitution. “I also love connecting with the Fordham students, and Dean Feerick has been a mentor of mine since I was a young lawyer. I could never turn down an invitation from him!”
Before sharing his paper, Treanor had the pleasure of introducing Dean Diller, his longtime friend and colleague. Diller reciprocated kind words for Treanor, whom he started working with on the Fordham Law faculty in 1993 and subsequently served under him as associate dean of academic affairs from 2003 to 2008.
“To be in the same classroom with two of my predecessors—scholars who are also my friends and mentors—is incredible,” said Diller, who has served as dean since 2015. “It was great to see Fordham students learning from two such remarkable leaders who are also superb scholars of the Constitution.”
Generous Role Model
Each year, Feerick provides every student in his Language of the Constitution course a hardbound pocket version of the founding document so they can consult it if ever any constitutional questions arise. He has long believed studying the Constitution forges within law students a deeper appreciation for a lawyer’s values and work. Treanor, who has known Feerick for more than three decades, attests that there is no greater example to the wisdom of this belief than Feerick himself.
“I don’t know of a finer human being,” Treanor said of Feerick. “He is always dedicated to doing the right thing.”
Treanor’s admiration for Feerick dates back to 1987 when he worked under the then-Fordham Law dean as part of the New York Commission on Government Integrity. Treanor emphasized that his respect for Feerick ran so deep he selected Feerick to swear him in when he became a lawyer.
“He was my role model when I became dean,” Treanor added. “I don’t think anyone has ever been a better dean, and he was so generous with his time and so supportive.”
Feerick describes his relationship with Treanor as akin to an older brother/young brother dynamic. He praised his protégé’s career as a member of Fordham’s faculty and as dean, as well as his scholarly mastery of issues surrounding the Constitution’s creation. Their shared interests in the Constitution prompted Feerick to extend an invitation to Treanor to participate in his new course.
Language of the Constitution, in addition to its namesake focus, ties in Feerick’s career-spanning work on the 25th Amendment on presidential succession and the abolition of the Electoral College to elucidate his and Fordham Law’s rich history with the Constitution, Rogan noted. Feerick and Rogan also co-taught Fordham’s Presidential Succession Clinic.
Studying the Constitution’s language under Feerick and Rogan has proved a “meaningful experience” for 3L Jon Hermann, who has enjoyed the course’s engaging roundtable discussion and the teamwork exhibited among classmates.
“Everybody is working on helping each other on their projects,” Hermann shared. The course’s “horizontal” learning approach, encouraging dialogue between participants in lieu of lecture, makes it unlike many other courses at the Law School. “Now that I’ve taken this class I would encourage other students to take it or another class like it,” Hermann added.
Treanor’s paper examines how one of the Constitution’s signatories, Gouverneur Morris, retooled the document’s language to allow for the creation of new states. This insight illustrated to students both the impact one individual could have on the constitution as well as the manner in which its language developed, said Hermann, whose own paper analyzes how the Constitution was influenced by western territories and the prospect of bringing new states into the union.
“It was clear Dean Treanor had such a passion for Fordham, and that Dean Feerick had an outsized influence on both Treanor and Diller,” Hermann observed. “It was great to hear them talk about each other in complimentary ways.”
Prior to his presentation, Treanor listened intently as students identified the focus of their papers. He commented on some of the subjects they raised and praised the students for the extraordinary quality of their topics, Feerick noted.
“For someone as distinguished as Dean Treanor to say that to the students made them feel deeply appreciated,” Feerick remarked.
3L Katherine Wright presented her paper, tentatively titled “Politics of Passive Voice in the Bill of Rights,” for 10 minutes before addressing questions from the class. Treanor exchanged emails with Wright regarding her paper’s direction in the weeks before he attended class.
“Dean Treanor set my research on the right path, and I am really appreciative of that,” Wright said. Further, Wright recognized the April 3 class as a “special moment” due to the presence of the three deans, whose efforts produced monumental benefits for students like her.
Treanor’s class visits through the years illustrate that Fordham Law provides its students more than just an excellent legal education.
“We say to students when they come to law school, this is not simply three or four years of your life,” Feerick said. “It’s a community of people that develop relationships that last a lifetime.”