by Maria Iacobo
Photos by Mikel Healey
The USC Gould School of Law formally installed Professor Lee Epstein as the inaugural holder of the Rader Family Trustee Chair in Law recently, formally welcoming the internationally recognized scholar of law and judicial politics to USC. Epstein, who holds appointments in USC Law and the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, joined USC from Northwestern University School of Law this fall.
Prof. Lee Epstein, inaugural holder of
the Rader Family Trustee Chair in Law
“Any way you measure it, Lee Epstein is a superstar,” said Robert K. Rasmussen, Dean of USC Law. “You cannot think about the political economy of the judiciary without thinking about the contributions of Lee Epstein. She has revolutionized the field.”
Epstein is a provost professor – one of only ten at USC – whose work is characterized by outstanding interdisciplinary research and education. She is the recipient of 12 National Science Foundation grants for her work on law and legal institutions and is a prolific author with more than 100 articles and essays and 14 books. Among her accomplishments, Epstein pioneered the application of empirical analysis to judicial decision-making.
In her remarks to her colleagues, family and friends, Epstein reflected on four key lessons she has learned in her career. In doing so Epstein shared the passion she brings to her teaching and research and the excitement she derives from participating in an academic community.
Lesson number one taught her to “ask questions that not only contribute to existing knowledge, but that also engage the real world.
“In my case, questions that help people better understand law and legal institutions so that they can make better choices,” said Epstein.
Her second lesson focused on the benefits that all scholars can achieve by being part of a major, research university.
|Prof. Epstein and Steve Rader '81|
“The advancement of knowledge depends on an active community of scholars working together in cooperation and – yes – competition. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ and ‘interprofessionality’ are not just buzz words; they are crucial to innovation and discovery.”
Epstein continues “to marvel everyday” about her “sheer great good fortune of working in place—a university—where knowledge is there for the taking.”
Having asked interesting questions and finding the relevant tools to address the question, Epstein’s third lesson is to be fearless. Intellectual integrity rather than confirming a prior belief is the hallmark of transformative scholarship.
“Follow the rules and follow the evidence wherever they may lead,” said Epstein. “We all have intuitions about whatever it is we are studying and they have a role to play in research. But, our intuitions can lead us terribly astray….Oddly enough, our gut reactions are even worse when we’re experts on a topic precisely because we have too much information, too many pre-commitments and too much confidence.”
The final lesson is that fearlessness needs to be accompanied by humility.
“All of the knowledge we have gained will always be uncertain,” Epstein told her colleagues. “There’s some tendency to think that the kinds of statistical models I use can supply certain and ready answers to questions like: how many justices will vote to uphold the Health Care Law or would the Senate confirm Diane Wood were Obama to nominate her to the Supreme Court. But it’s precisely the opposite. All conclusions [I reach] are uncertain to a degree.”
In the end, the most important lesson may be that the faculty and students of USC have the benefit of learning from and with Lee Epstein.