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, typically mentioned, “I was much better at afflicting the comfortable than I ever was at comforting the afflicted.” His death late last week at age 71 was a shock to everybody working on the intersection of upper schooling and the regulation, particularly as a result of many people have been shepherded there by Michael himself. Whereas others can converse to his huge contributions to legal guidelines supporting school entry, just like the top 10 percent plan in Texas; his advocacy for undocumented immigrants, together with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the DREAM Act; and his contributions to law school leadership itself, I’ll give attention to what I do know finest: Michael’s function 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 scholar 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 might set up residency and qualify for in-state tuition at Ohio’s public faculties and universities. (Michael tells the story here, beginning on the 8:45 mark.) In 1982, Michael helped set up the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance (IHELG) on the College of Houston’s Legislation Heart, which hosted a biannual Greater Schooling Legislation Roundtable for brand spanking new school members with J.D.s and Ph.D.s. I had neither a school 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 ravishing and an sometimes horrifying friendship. Michael’s critiques of written work might be withering, however his reward—when provided—was effusive. He helped flip my paper from the roundtable into two IHELG monographs after which into two regulation assessment articles. He even cited one article in his indispensable casebook, The Law and Higher Education: Cases and Materials on Colleges in Court (“out there in wonderful bookstores all over the place,” as Michael would say).

Michael had a method of closing his eyes tight, turning his head and showing to float off in thought. That was the look on his face—beamed in by way of Skype—firstly 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-known one-word Olivas e-mail response: “Yayyyyyyyyyy!”

When Michael obtained the College of Houston’s highest award for school excellence in 2001, he said, “I consider that nurturing younger professionals, particularly younger professors, is the best calling and essentially the most rewarding vocation.” In my case, he phrased it a bit in a different way: “If I may also help in any method on the job entrance, be at liberty to make use of my title, 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 instances through the years.

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 College of Legislation in 2015 on an injured foot, Michael mentioned 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 really like Jimmy Smits to play him within the film about his life.

Michael’s community grew to become my community. Too busy to simply accept an invite to function professional bono counsel to the World Council of Comparative Education Societies, Michael advisable 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 assist for the databases Michael maintained on states that allow and restrict entry to larger schooling for undocumented college students. The case of a U.S.-born scholar in New Jersey who was denied state-based monetary assist as a result of her dad and mom have been undocumented significantly flummoxed Michael.

Like many nice mentors, Michael shared his private life and allotted household knowledge. He was a proud Mexican American with deep roots in New Mexico, which informed 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 mentioned he was perfecting the “adoring gaze” at his beloved spouse, Tina. One among 10 youngsters, Michael spoke typically of his prolonged household. Entrance-row tickets to a Houston Rockets sport made considered one of Michael’s nephews assume that “Uncle Michael is the good uncle.”

The depth and breadth of Michael’s authorized experience set an instance (an not possible one) to emulate. On the 2017 convention of the Affiliation for the Research of Greater Schooling on the day he obtained the distinguished career award—a day you’d anticipate him to take a scholarly day without work—Michael gave a detail-filled presentation on the difficulty of undocumented legal professionals, the DACA program and occupational licensing. Making an attempt to satisfy this Olivas-esque normal, I just lately 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, regardless that I’m no skilled on the difficulty. The Trump administration’s journey bans, the COVID-19 pandemic and the battle in Ukraine present loads of trenchant examples, however I used to be very a lot trying ahead to getting Michael’s suggestions.

Michael was the very mannequin of a contemporary main generalist. He was an expert on John Updike earlier than he grew to become a lawyer. After I was in contact with him final month, he offered 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 Law of Rock and Roll radio present and podcast.) Whereas preparing for his latest knee surgical procedure, Michael advised me, “You might be No. 1 with a bullet on my checklist” for a letter of advice he was getting ready. I responded with a photograph of the Billboard Hot 100 from April 4, 1964, when the Beatles held the highest 5 spots. “These have been the times, my buddy,” Michael replied. “At the moment: Encanto on the high of the checklist, astride the world.”

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



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