What do you look forward to about returning to UVA?
There’s too much to list! I truly love UVA and Charlottesville, and I’m excited and honored to have the opportunity to return. I am especially looking forward to reconnecting with old friends and to making new ones.
You’re a husband, a father of four, a marathon runner — and you keep chickens, on top of being a Harvard dean. How do you find time for it all?
Chickens are not actually that time-consuming. In fact, they are remarkably easy to keep, once you have a coop, as chickens need so little but give so much. I often tell my kids they could learn a lot from our chickens in this respect.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My father. He was a fount of hard-earned wisdom and taught me some of the most important lessons I have ever learned, including what it means to be a good father and what strength and integrity really look like. Although he worked very hard his whole life, starting his first part-time job when he was 9, he also always emphasized the importance of giving back to your community and of never forgetting your roots.
What did you enjoy most about your law school days, as a student and as a professor?
I loved the Law School community, including the students, faculty and staff. The community featured a wonderful and rare combination of intellectual engagement and seriousness of purpose, but also genuine compassion and goodwill.
How do you prepare for a speech that may be seen on video by millions?
Well, I can’t say it ever crossed my mind that a speech of mine would be seen by millions. But I do practice in front of our chickens, who are a very receptive and respectful audience. This is another area, I have discovered, where my children could learn a thing or two from our chickens.
What is your secret to connecting with people?
I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest, so maybe that’s my secret. I know that I feel a connection to other people when they seem to take a genuine interest in me by asking questions and listening to the answers. I try to do the same.
We’ve heard you’re a practical joker. What’s been your best prank?
My all-time favorite was when I was a law professor at UVA and around April Fools’ Day tricked my Constitutional Law class into thinking I was unfairly and randomly picking out three students to punish for ignoring my request to all students that no one go online during class (which many did anyway, alas). It worked even better than I expected, as students were aghast about the apparent injustice inflicted on their three classmates — all of whom were in on the joke and critical to its success. I was going to wait until April Fools’ Day to let the class know it was a joke, but I gave it up early because students were going in groups to the Dean’s Office to complain! The highlight was when one student, outraged at the treatment of his colleagues, wrote me to confess that he, too, went online during class so that if I was going to punish others, I should punish him as well. I wrote him back a one-word email: “Done.” He was at my door within minutes after I emailed the class to let them know it was a joke. I can’t repeat what he said.