Paul L. Caron

Monday, August 29, 2022

Deaning While Stuttering


As a life-long stutterer, I found this New York Times video, I Stutter. But This Is What You’re Not Hearing. with writer John Hendrickson (What Joe Biden Can't Bring Himself to Say), particularly compelling:

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.

Faith, Legal Education, Pepperdine Legal Ed | Permalink


Paul, you might enjoy this essay by my nephew:

Posted by: Jon Weinberg | Sep 13, 2022 7:01:42 AM

Paul, this is such an honest and heartfelt post, you continue to inspire others in all that you do.

Posted by: Jeffrey Rohde | Sep 6, 2022 2:14:23 PM

Thanks for sharing this Paul. Having a son with an intellectual disability has given me a new appreciation for the uniqueness of each person created by God. You are living proof of how God uses our challenges to refine us and bring glory to Him. I'm thankful for you!

Posted by: Kevin Dineen | Sep 4, 2022 9:21:52 AM

Thank you for sharing your stuttering history. As a retired law professor who also stutters, I have traveled in your shoes, but for most of my career I tried to hide my disability. By advertising yours, you have done a great service to others, and to yourself.

Posted by: Stanley Fisher | Sep 1, 2022 9:12:56 AM

When I was a toddler, I stuttered and stammered so badly that only my mother could understand me. My father, a practicing attorney, had a similar problem as a child. Through speech therapy, we were able to cope with and ultimately overcome our communication impairment. My father was a successful litigator, and I have been a consultant to nonprofits for 30 years as well as a speaker and presenter. In fact, I have done gigs as a radio talk show host! I still hesitate when I have to say "Ann Arbor," which was inconvenient when my father married my stepmother, whose family lived there!

Posted by: Michael L. Wyland | Aug 30, 2022 7:46:04 AM

Beautiful post, Paul. I'm a longtime stutterer as well, and I can certainly identify with your struggles. Thanks for sharing your experiences here.

Posted by: Michael Cohn | Aug 30, 2022 4:09:40 AM

Wonderful piece. As a law professor who stutters, your story and trajectory are inspiring.

Posted by: Jon Lee | Aug 29, 2022 7:16:11 PM

I concur in the previous, laudatory comments, Paul. Your example is inspiring.

Posted by: Chris Bryant | Aug 29, 2022 1:34:36 PM

Dean Caron, this is one of the best pieces published to your blog. It will inspire others to be kind to themselves while stepping forward to do good works!

Posted by: David Yamada | Aug 29, 2022 12:51:24 PM

A really lovely post, Paul. I hope it brings comfort and encouragement to folks in that or similar situations.

Posted by: bryan | Aug 29, 2022 12:10:49 PM