Page 6 - Briefcase V35 Number 1
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F A CUL TY  F OCUS




            "MY SOJOURN AS A COLLEGE PRESIDENT"


            MICHAEL A. OLIVAS

            William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law (Acting President, UH Downtown)

              This ton of bricks fell on me with 48 hours’ notice,          the property, while it was a legal case that paved the way
            and I already had a full life (actually, an overloaded          for me to forge a relationship with our major donor. In
            life), with all this on top. On Feb. 1, 2016, I was asked       addition, I was able to see the contours of several personnel
            to become the interim president of UH-Downtown,                 issues, having taught and studied such cases over the years.
            the second-largest institution in the city. It has been a        But it has been the roiling of immigration law waters
            tremendous learning opportunity, but is intermittently          that has proven to be the ultimate test of my life as a
            terrifying and satisfying. My most terrifying moment            law-professor-turned-college-president. I have spent
            was when I decided at 4:15 a.m. to keep the campus              most of my professional life and personal commitment to
            open, despite the storms that were causing severe               improving life for immigrants and to representing clients
            flooding. Mistakes in either direction would have been          with legitimate claims to refuge and safe harbor. I have
            disastrous. We survived, but when we had a welder’s             always considered myself an officer of the court, dedicated
            fire on a building roof, I fulfilled James Taylor’s             to zealous advocacy and a respect for all parties.
            prediction of seeing Fire and Rain.                              I also have labored to bring order and an educator’s
              At first, I just immersed myself in the life of the institution whose   concerns to bear upon students in Texas courts and legislatures, and in
            buildings I had driven by hundreds of times, right in the heart of   our nation, especially those whose parents brought them to the United
            downtown Houston — in fact, One Main Street. That used to be the   States as children. As UHD president, I am proud that we are educating
            beginning and end of the light rail system; now, that line is the heart   many hundreds of students, who have kept their part of the academic
            of the academic corridor, stretching north and south from UHD in all   bargain through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and
            directions, to TSU, UH, HCC, and the Medical Center, where UHD is   other humanitarian programs of longstanding, with bipartisan support.
            collaborating with HCC on a nursing degree.            A number of these are international treaties that cannot be abrogated
              UH-Downtown is more than 45 years old, and graduated its   with a signature or single act.
            50,000th alum into the Houston economy. UHD alums are the major   After the president of the United States signed an executive order to
            flow of HISD teachers, provide many area police chiefs (including   temporarily halt refugees lawfully en route to the United States — some
            two recent HPD chiefs), and constitute the largest MBA program   even on U.S. soil but not yet processed through airport security — a
            in the city. At commencement twice a year, our students and their   federal judge and court of appeals enjoined the order. It specifically
            family members practically fill Minute Maid Park. Nearly half the   applied to seven predominantly-Muslim countries, but persons who
            institution’s 14,000+ students are Latino, more than a quarter are   hold immigrant and non-immigrant visas (including tourists, students,
            African-American, and 10 percent are Asian—in other words, just   scholars, business visitors and more than a dozen other such visas) have
            like the city of Houston. With moderate admission standards, UHD   reasons for concern. In other words, all bets are off until the courts rule
            is the college of choice for many first-generation college families, and   or until Congress acts.
            two thirds of our students arrive after attending college elsewhere.   I write not to excite or even to quarrel, but to reassure and urge
            Our faculty includes the city’s Poet Laureate, a recent Pushcart Prize   study, public discourse and robust debate. My academic life before law
            author, renowned artists, and accomplished scholars and teachers   was literature, and I began my college teaching career as an English
            across disciplines. All are dedicated to the UHD mission, and   department teaching assistant at Ohio State in 1972. As should almost
            recognition has begun to arrive, as evidenced by a recent $10 million   always be the foundation, let’s begin with literature, such as Cervantes’
            gift to name our Marilyn E. Davies College of Business.   “Don Quixote,” who satirizes nationalism and tilts against windmills,
              Although UHD does not have a law school, I found more than   and Shakespeare, who once again shows his timeless relevance when
            once that being a lawyer — especially one who specializes in Higher   Dick the Butcher in “Henry VI” urges: ''The first thing we do, let's kill all
            Education Law and Immigration Law — is a useful background.   the lawyers.'' (Part II, Act IV, Scene II)
            Not only have I been assisted by several UHLC grads who were my   Today, it is lawyers who have already begun to throw sand into the
            Higher Ed Law Seminar students and now serve as UHS counsel,   gears, requiring more adherence to long-settled law and constitutional
            but I understood the legal implications of many decisions that had   norms. In my many years as a lawyer and law professor, I have suffered
            to be made on a daily basis, especially in the areas of personnel and   the agony of defeat and the thrill of victory, but I have never been as
            administrative law.                                    proud of my profession as now. In December, I invited UHLC colleague
              At the end of service, I look back on the purchase of almost 20 acres   Professor Geoff Hoffman and my former UHLC student Josephine
            of adjacent land and the major naming gift as the most transformative   Sorgwe, who now serves as a UHLC immigration clinic lawyer, to
            actions — the first to secure a campus footprint for expansion, and   provide consultation for students at UHD, some of whom are from
            the second to secure financial and prestige resources. I found papers   the seven countries impacted by the executive order.  All sides of any
            showing that we had been trying for more than a dozen years to secure   argument in our system deserve and require advocacy and an informed


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