As my fellow stutterers will understand, I have endured the daily terror of fearing the next time I will be required to speak. As far as I know, I was the only student in my elementary school, high school, college, and law school, and the only lawyer in my law firm and professor in my law schools, with this speech disorder. I am forever grateful for the teachers, professors, lawyers, and faculty who saw something in me that I never saw in myself and gave me the opportunity and unspoken encouragement to succeed as a student, lawyer, and law professor.
As you can imagine, deaning has made the daily terror particularly acute, with meetings and speeches filling my calendar. But for the first time in my life, I have begun talking about it with others, first in my presentation to the Pepperdine Caruso Law faculty when I ran for dean. I closed my remarks by saying:
There are many reasons why you may decide that I shouldn’t be dean. But one of them shouldn’t be how I talk. Because how I talk has made me the man that I am.
I have since shared my story with old and new friends, usually over dinner. Their reactions encouraged me to talk about my struggle at our Baccalaureate Service for our Christian students and their families the night before graduation in May. We give a Pepperdine Caruso Law-branded Bible to each of the graduates, inscribed with their name and the five Bible verses from my message on Purpose, Perseverance, and Psalm 139 Post-Pepperdine. I explain how these verses have equipped me to not only survive but thrive in my dean role despite the difficulties I face. I encourage the graduates to lean on these verses when they face the inevitable challenges that will come their way. Among those in attendance at the service this year was Frank Biden, the brother of the President. One of the most unexpected twists in my dean journey was becoming friends with Frank, due to our shared faith and shared struggle with our speech.
In July, I was invited to be one of six "experienced" deans to lead the annual workshop hosted by the ABA for all new law school deans. My assigned topic was Leadership and Management, and I spoke on the ten things I wish I had known when I had become a dean five years earlier. My last item was Leading Through Weakness, and I shared the challenges I have faced deaning with my stutter. I closed by telling the new and experienced deans about what I had said to the faculty when I ran for dean, and what I have learned since then. I talked about an expression that originated in the computer industry in the 1970s: programmers found what they thought was a “bug” in some software, but when they dug deeper, they realized that it was a “feature” intentionally added by the developer to serve an important purpose that was not apparent on the surface. I said that if I could go back in time, I would change my message to the faculty to:
There are many reasons why you may decide that I should be dean. One of them should be how I talk. Because how I talk is a feature of how God made me to serve in this role, not a bug.
I am forever grateful to former President Andy Benton and Provost Rick Marrs for choosing me to be dean for the past five years; current President Jim Gash and Provost Jay Brewster for reappointing me to another five year term; and students, staff, faculty, alumni, donors, and friends for giving me grace when I fall short of the standard set by my predecessors.