July 25, 2014
On Being Associate Dean
Posted by Gordon Smith

For the past five years, I have served as Associate Dean of Faculty and Curriculum at the BYU Law School. Dean Jim Rasband announced today that I would be stepping down from that position to resume the life of a regular law professor. Surprisingly, reading that announcement was bittersweet for me.

No law school professor I know aspires to be an associate dean. Over the past few years, whenever I would see Bob Rasmussen, Dean of USC's Law School, he would say, "You have the worst job in legal education." A few years ago Peter Joy, then Vice Dean of Washington University School of Law, distributed to his fellow associate deans a toy fire hydrant with the label "Associate Dean" on the side. You get the idea.

Despite the difficult job description, I have been blessed to work with Dean Jim Rasband, one of the finest people I have ever known, and with Kif Augustine-Adams and Brett Scharffs, who took turns serving as the other associate dean. Working closely with these people has been a life-changing experience for me in every good way that you can imagine.

This has also been a time of great change at BYU Law School. If you are not familiar with BYU Law School, I hope you will look more closely at what we are creating. I am confident that my colleagues, including my successor in the deanery, RonNell Andersen Jones, will continue to move this institution forward, even during this time of great challenges for law schools.

With my release, I will have time to prepare for my new course (with Justice Tom Lee and Stephen Mouritsen) on Law and Corpus Linguistics, finish a few law review articles, catch up on my email inbox, and do some more law blogging. But the best news from a professional standpoint is that I will be on leave during the winter semester. I am planning to workshop a few papers relating to fiduciary law and law and entrepreneurship, and, though my schedule is filling quickly, if you have any openings in your workshop series, I would welcome the invitation.

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March 27, 2008
"Pajama Gladiator"
Posted by Gordon Smith

When we lived in Wisconsin, I noticed occasional announcements in my alumni magazine about the BYU Animation Program, which has produced a number of award-winning films. Last year, my daughter started her college career intent on majoring in some form of visual art. After investigating the Animation Program, she was hooked, and she started taking classes last fall. It's a very cool major at the intersection of technology and art. She works incredibly hard, but she loves what she is doing.

With this personal investment, I was very pleased to read today about the creation of a new BYU Center for Animation. And I was especially pleased to read the remarks of Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios:

"Over the years, Pixar has worked with a lot of different universities around the country and hired people. One of the interesting things is, all of a sudden, in the last few years, we found that BYU has risen to the top. BYU has an extraordinary program here."
"It's amazing to suddenly see that BYU is producing the best in the industry.... It's the perception not just at Pixar but also at the other studios that something pretty remarkable is happening here."

If you follow the link above, you can see a preview of the latest film from the BYU animation students entitled "Pajama Gladiator." More stuff here.

UPDATE: The original post was mainly just me bragging about my daughter. One thing that I didn't mention is that the Animation Program accepts only about 10% of the applicants each year, and this selectivity must be part of their formula for success.

This morning, I read more about Catmull's speech in The Daily Universe, BYU's campus newpaper. His discussion of the making of Toy Story 2 may be of more general interest to readers of Conglomerate:

Through most of the production, the team [working on Toy Story 2] had internal problems. As a result, the film suffered. Nine months before the movie's release, Pixar requested to start over with a new crew, even though it was a daunting task.

"We just had an idea that was a good idea, and we put a team on it and they screwed it up; they couldn't do it," Catmull said. "And we put a great team on it and they fixed it. It's absolutely clear the issue for us has nothing to do with finding that idea. It's all about putting together a team that works well together."


Catmull ... emphasized the importance of doing the best one can. He mentioned how Pixar was told to make "Toy Story 2" second-class and release it to video for a large profit.

"The problem is [Disney's] sequels weren't very good," Catmull said. "We realized, as we went through with this, the very concept of [doing] 'B-work' was bad for our souls."

There is wisdom borne of experience.

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October 05, 2007
Navel Gazing
Posted by Gordon Smith

One of the major challenges in moving lies in establishing a new set of routines. Rather than merely replicating old routines, I have come to view moves as a short window of opportunity to make profound changes in my habits or lifestyle. My wish list for my move this summer was surprisingly long, but I will  mention only two things in this post: money and health.

Budgeting has never been a strength, and though we have done fairly well on one law professor's salary, money is not sloshing around freely in the Smith household. With one child in college and four more in the pipeline -- and a much larger mortgage payment than we had in Wisconsin -- I decided to take the opportunity of our move to do some financial planning.

As one of its employee benefits, BYU offers a free consultation with a financial planner. So I assembled all of our financial information and sent it to our designated consultant. Apparently, unless you have very obvious problems -- like no retirement planning, no other savings, or excessive credit card debt -- the only thing this fellow has to offer was a slap on the back and a hearty "You're doing great!"

So I took matters into my own hands and started using Mint. The setup is simple -- just create a Mint account, then add your credit cards and checking account. Mint pulls all of your transactions and begins to classify them. At the beginning, some of the transactions ended up in strange places, and the biggest category of transactions was "No category," but I have gotten into the habit of classifying (or re-classifying) transactions, and Mint learns from the past. So I am building a history, which is the key, of course, because Mint is about detecting spending trends. (The service also suggests "Ways to Save," but I have found those suggestions completely unhelpful.) It's too early to say whether Mint will help us to rationalize our spending, but the initial signs are hopeful.

Now the harder -- and more urgent -- change: my health. Actually, my doctor in Wisconsin told me that I am in very good health ... for a fat man. No high blood pressure or high cholesterol. No heart problems or shortness of breath or diabetes. Yet. But I have been gaining weight consistently for the past 20 years, and every time I visit a doctor, the main message is simple: lose weight.

The principle governing weight loss is obvious and we all know it: burn more calories than you consume. It was clear to me that my first step needed to be ... taking more than a first step. My sedentary lifestyle had to go. The problem, of course, is that, like most fat people, I don't enjoy exercise. I needed to find something I could do without the nagging feeling that I wanted to be doing something else.

So I bought an iPod and started walking to work. That's three miles of uninterrupted podcasts/recorded books each way! When I started, temperatures in Utah were mostly in the 90s, but on some days broke 100 degrees. Frankly, I am not sure why that didn't stop me, but I kept walking. In the first month, I lost 7-8 pounds. And there is no incentive for weight loss that is greater than weight loss.

So I took the next step, recruiting my 16-year-old son to lift weights with me three times a week at the end of the workday. He is engaging, funny, and smart. We talk about his school and my work and BYU football. All the important stuff. He is a former football player, and he enjoys lifting weights, so I am counting on him to keep me on task. And to spot me on the bench press!

After classes started, I enrolled in Y-Be-Fit, a fitness and health program run by faculty and students at BYU. For $20 I received a personal health assessment -- including a blood lipid profile, a treadmill test, a trip to the Bod Pod (to measure body fat), a nutritional analysis, and various other evaluations -- and a weekly counseling session for three months. My "counselor" is a BYU student, who checks my progress, offers encouragement, and provides me with information on how to reach my health and fitness goals. Again, this is not rocket science, but it's nice to have the regular visit as an incentive to keep exercising.

As part of the Y-Be-Fit program, I was told by a BYU Professor of Exercise Science that the corollary to the caloric deficit principle (above) is that very few people successfully lose weight through exercise alone. Most of us need to make fairly extreme adjustments to our diets. That probably explains in large part why, after two months of walking to work and lifting weights, I had lost only 10 pounds. (I understand that 10 pounds is a lot for two months, but my point is that most of the weight loss occurred in the first month.)

Over the past two weeks, therefore, I have been speaking to my counselor about the need to adjust my diet. After reviewing the results of my nutritional analysis, my task was clear: less meat, more veggies.  And stop eating out so much!

This has been tough. Despite a scriptural injunction to eat meat "sparingly," most Mormons are far from vegetarians. Having attended a fair number of luncheons since my arrival, I can testify that non-meat options are tough to come by at BYU. But I am slowly learning the tricks of the trade, and I had a very tasty vegetarian rice dish at a law school luncheon today.

Despite these little successes, I have been frustrated by my inability to know whether I was achieving a caloric deficit. During our session this week, my counselor suggested that I try the "MyPyramid Tracker" on the USDA's website. As with Mint, my limited experience may be insufficient to draw any firm conclusions, but I have been able to count calories rather painlessly over the past two days. Entering the physical activity numbers is more challenging, but I am going to persevere until I can develop enough history to get a feel for this new lifestyle.

By the way, at my most recent weighing, I am down 12 pounds since the beginning of August. I hope you will see even less of me the next time we meet.

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September 17, 2007
BYU in the Rankings
Posted by Gordon Smith

BYU's Marriott School of Business was ranked by the W$J as the #1 Regional Business School in the US. (The regional schools appear to be all schools outside of the Top 19, which are ranked as National Business Schools.) This ranking is based on a poll of recruiters.

On the other side of campus, the BYU Law School has received a #7 ranking from National Jurist and preLaw magazines on their list of Best Value Law Schools in the U.S. We were the top-ranked private school on the list. (Thanks to Paul Caron for the link.) I can't discern from the link the basis of these ratings, but BYU's unbelievably low tuition obviously is a big factor.

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September 09, 2007
Mormon Missions & Football
Posted by Gordon Smith

In blogging about this weekend's game between BYU and UCLA, Steve Bainbridge observed: "There was an interesting article in the LAT this week on the perennial question of whether going on a mission hurts the development of Mormon athletes, especially QBs. Max Hall's making the case that there is no adverse effect, while Olson's struggles - win or lose - likely will restart the grumbling around campus."

Steve is right about this question coming around again and again. For BYU fans, the mission question is a constant source of entertainment, frustration, and anxiety. When BYU succeeds, you can guarantee that someone will play the age card. Last week, for example, Arizona head coach Mike Stoops was asked about BYU's ability to compete in a BCS conference*:

They're pretty good. They can compete, I would think, as well as anybody. They have a whole team full of Spencer Larsen's. [Larsen is a returned missionary.] I'd take one hundred Spencer Larsen's if I could get them. That's what you have to realize, they have maturity, they go on missions for two years, their average age is probably 22-24, I would think, and that's just the way they do it. They go to school for a year, they learn the system, they go on a mission for two years and then they redshirt them. Who knows how old some of those kids were but they were very physical. I think you notice it more with their linemen than you do with their skill (players).

What is often missed in this conversation is the enormous burden placed on coaches by the mission program. The burden is the result of several factors: (1) young men** are eligible to serve missions at the age of 19, which means (in most cases) that coaches must decide whether to use a year of eligibility before the mission or to burn a player's redshirt year; (2) young men who serve missions become eligible for transfer after their missions, meaning that they must be recruited all over again by the home school (in some instances, BYU loses players after missions, and in some instances, BYU gains -- see Ben Olson and Max Hall, respectively); (3) missions change people both physically and mentally (some great prospects are never the same after a mission, and others require a substantial period of adjustment to return to pre-mission form -- the phenomenon known in these parts as "mission legs"); and (4) programs change, so that returned missionaries often must adjust to new coaches or new expectations when they return.

If you think missions are a great advantage, you might ask yourself why coaches outside of BYU do not embrace this advantage. While some coaches have learned to tolerate missions -- especially if the prospect is very talented -- many view missions as an unwelcome complication. For a recent example, USC coach Pete Carroll conditioned starting fullback Stanley Havili's scholarship offer on Havili's commitment to forego a mission. Some other coaches promise during recruiting to facilitate missions, but later attempt to dissuade the players from actually serving.

In the final analysis, the effect of a mission on a particular athlete is unpredictable and may be impossible to distinguish from other factors. Has Ben Olson's ability been impaired by his mission, or would he have faced similar struggles without missionary service? I don't know because he redshirted prior to his mission, but I admire him for  making the decision at 19 years old to devote two years of his life to the service of others. If his experience was anything like mine, he will not regret that decision.

* Note that the question is about BYU's ability to compete in a BCS conference without the recruiting advantages and resources advantages currently enjoyed by teams who actually play in those conferences.

** Women serve missions, too. My wife served in Sweden, for example. But this post is focused on football, so I refer to young men.

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April 02, 2007
House Hunting in Utah
Posted by Gordon Smith

Three days looking at houses in Utah County. My brain is fried.

At a moment, I am both a prospective seller (in Wisconsin) and a prospective buyer (in Utah), and I could use a little closure. The funniest moment of the weekend was when I went to the Verizon store with my two oldest children to get new phones. I asked the sales rep to explain the options, which took about three minutes, then I turned to my children and said: "Ok, you heard what she said. Decide now." (They just laughed at me.)

Many of the homes we visited included "mother-in-law" apartments, most of which were rented to BYU students. Actually, I could see us doing this after our children leave home. Not for the money but for the company. When we were a young, married couple, we lived in a basement apartment below a wonderful elderly couple. We played cards and watched old movies together several nights a week. That was a wonderful experience.

After much searching, we finally submitted a bid on a home at 11 pm on Saturday evening, but the Seller's agent would not transmit the bid to her clients on Sunday. "We don't do business on Sunday in Utah County."

So I remain in suspense.

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