Taiwan’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”); former Justice of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of China; former Dean of National Taiwan University College of Law
Passion and Compassion Being the Key Characteristics of a Successful Legal Educator: Professor William P. Alford Is Hao Laoshi with Such Characteristics
The term “老師” (laoshi) used in Taiwan does not only refer to its plain meaning of “teacher”; it is also an honorific title to show respect to a person who serves as a mentor to her students and has guided and inspired them not merely in their skills and academic performance, but also in their proper manners and behaviors toward other people and proper attitudes toward managing various matters (that is, “為人處事” or wei ren chu shi). In some eastern societies, when people discuss education, a “good teacher” or “好老師” (hao laoshi) is always the key component for a successful education at all levels.
In Taiwan, there is still a tradition of giving high respect to hao laoshi not only by the students, but also by the whole society. In order to be considered a hao laoshi, one must be able to meet certain high standards, including being passionate and compassionate enough to engage in authoring writings in order to advance her thoughts about certain fundamental values (that is, “著書立說” or zhu shu li shuo), to teach both by words and by her own example so as to show that she is also practicing the values that she is proposing (that is, “言教身教” or yan jiao shen jiao), to teach without any partiality so that the disadvantaged people also have similar opportunities to receive her guidance (that is, “有教無類” or you jiao wu lei), to teach in accordance with the students’ aptitude so that not only smart students would become better, but also less sophisticated students can progressively improve (that is, “因材施教” or yin cai shi jiao), and to have an extensive sense of social responsibility to care disadvantaged groups or individuals (that is, “社會責任感” or she hui ze ren gan).
The standards of hao laoshi might not be universally agreed upon. However, they are useful standards to help us reflect whether there have been some important elements that need to be incorporated into legal education. These standards are also useful in helping us identify a dedicated hao laoshi in legal education so that we can express our respect and gratitude to her.
Traditionally, legal education emphasizes the improvement of students’ legal skills and abilities, including skills in logical, analytical, and critical thinking, and abilities in presenting an opinion or arguing for a case in a clear and persuasive manner. What is not particularly emphasized in legal education in many (or most) jurisdictions is building the fundamental human values into the mindset of law students and integrating the passion and cares for society and compassion for the disadvantaged people into the nature of law students.
In order to build certain fundamental values into the mentality of law students to enable them to unequivocally distinguish legally and ethically right from wrong, and to ensure that the law students are equipped with necessary passion for the society and compassion for the disadvantaged groups and individuals, we really need hao laoshi in the law schools. We have to expect that law professors also have passion and compassion to engage in legal education by words and by their own examples. The suggestion of having passionate and compassionate law professors to nurture law students with this mindset does not mean that legal skills and abilities are not important. Actually, legal skills and abilities on the one hand, and faithful respect of fundamental values as well as caring the society and the disadvantaged people on the other hand, are two fundamental pillars of a respectable jurist.
If we are to use these benchmarks suggested above to present a perfect example of hao laoshi in the field of legal education, Professor William P. Alford of Harvard Law School is definitely the one who meets all the high standards and deserves the utmost respect and gratitude.
In this Tribute, I will lay out the reasons and some supporting facts to show why Professor Alford is hao laoshi and is really a teacher of teachers.
- Being Passionate in Authoring Writings in Order to Advance His Thoughts
Here, the meaning of authoring writings to advance one’s thoughts includes not only publication of books and articles, but also initiation of creative academically and socially meaningful programs or proposals. Publications and initiatives need creative thinking and enormous efforts. Both of them can generate similar long-lasting positive impact on legal education.
Professor Alford has very creative writings and programs in many areas of law. His areas of interest include comparative law, Chinese law, legal history, U.S.-Chinese relations, disability law, international trade law, legal profession, transnational and global lawyering, and international legal education, among other fields. Notwithstanding the wide variety of Professor Alford’s fields of interest, they all lead to a common theme, which is the promotion of international aspects of legal training in order to enable law students to address complicated international legal issues involving other countries (especially China and some Asian countries) and to be more aware of disadvantaged people in different jurisdictions.
Professor Alford has many new ideas, several of which have become important programs that he launched. For instance, he brought in the idea of “internationalization” to Harvard Law School’s curriculum and co-curricular activities. He also launched a program to allow students to earn credit when spending a semester in other countries. He also spent so much effort to develop a very innovative matching gift program in support of graduate student financial aid. These are not merely technical changes of curriculum and school policies. They actually have great positive impacts on the evolution and development of the school and its legal education. These innovative programs and initiatives are also support the main theme of encouraging law students to look at things from an international perspective and recruiting more talented international students to join the law school community so that people with different backgrounds can enrich each other in their school time and beyond. Indeed, an atmosphere where people from different countries with diverse cultural backgrounds can comfortably learn together and know each other’s legal systems is of key importance to the mutual enhancement their systems and to making a better world.
Professor Alford’s writings have been published worldwide and are of high importance in relevant fields. The following books are examples showing his great passion in authoring writings and in advancing his thoughts of caring for disadvantaged people: To Steal a Book is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization; Raising the Bar: The Emerging Legal Profession in East Asia; 残疾人法律保障机制研究 (A Study of Legal Mechanisms to Protect Persons with Disabilities); Prospects for the Professions in China; and Taiwan and International Human Rights: A Story of Transformation.
Professor Alford’s active practice of zhu shu li shuo shows his great passion. And his achievement in this regard is admirable.
- Being Passionate to Teach by Words and by His Own Example
A hao laoshi does not always need to instruct students about what is right and wrong. Students are competent enough to see what and how their professor is behaving and whether their professor is performing righteousness as she is telling them to do. They compare whether their professor’s words match her day-to-day practice. Many students consider their teacher as a role model. If a professor merely incorporates into her law school curriculum certain fundamental values to unequivocally distinguish legally and ethically right from wrong, such fundamental values might not sink into the mentality of law students. However, if a law professor practices what she is advocating, it is far more persuasive and could have much greater impact on students.
As indicated above, Professor Alford cares about disadvantaged people. He cares very much about the performance and development of human rights protection in many countries. I have the honor to co-edit with Professors Alford and Jerome Cohen the above-mentioned book, Taiwan and International Human Rights: A Story of Transformation. From my personal experience working with Professor Alford, he cares so much about human rights development in Taiwan and was enthusiastic in telling the world the story. He also personally authored a chapter for the book, which is entitled “People Over Pandas: Taiwan’s Engagement of International Human Rights Norms with Respect to Disability” (with Qiongyue Hu and Charles Wharton). This shows his great compassion in caring for disadvantaged people who live on the other side of the globe and in caring about the legal system that protects such vulnerable groups. Another example of showing his genuine interest in caring for disadvantaged people is reflected in Professor Alford’s book, An Oral History of the Special Olympics in China. The volumes include individuals with an intellectual disability telling their life stories. For many people, it is hard to imagine that a Harvard Law Professor would care about people with intellectual disabilities in a distant country. But caring about such disadvantaged people in different corners of the world is an integral to the character of Professor Alford.
Professor Alford is not merely advocating for the enhancement of disadvantaged people. He also initiates and participates in many innovative programs to help people in need. For instance, Professor Alford was co-founder and chair of the very active Harvard Law School Project on Disability (“HPOD”), which works “to enable persons with disabilities to claim their full and equal human rights” and “to develop equitable societies that respect the equal autonomy and dignity of persons with disabilities.” Under the program, there have been many creative pro bono works on disability conducted to improve human rights situations in many jurisdictions (including China, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam, and several other nations) under HPOD. Also very impressively, he serves as the lead director and vice chair of the Special Olympics’ Board of Directors. Although Professor Alford is humble enough to consider himself being “blessed to have been involved with Special Olympics for the past two decades,” he is actually needed by the organization and is able to make unique contributions with his profound legal background and enthusiasm. It is fortunate for many disadvantaged people to have Professor Alford caring about them and helping them.
Professor Alford teaches us not only by his writings, but also by his own example about being compassionate toward disadvantaged people and being passionate in personally engaging in the protection of such group of people and in the enhancement of their welfare through various innovative ways. He is really practicing yan jiao shen jiao.
- Being Compassionate to Teach International Students Without Any Partiality and to Teach in Accordance with Students’ Aptitude
At Harvard Law School, there are many foreign LLM students. A large portion of them come from economically and democratically less developed countries. They need special help and support in order to get into Harvard Law School and to afford their stay. As mentioned above, Professor Alford developed the matching gift program to support those students in financial need. The program helps Harvard Law School to admit students “irrespective of financial need and career goals.” In Professor Alford’s words, “That is the right thing to do … as it enables Harvard to enroll the best and most diverse range of graduate students—in terms of geographic and demographic background, life experience, and intellectual and professional aspirations—of any U.S. law school.” This reflects Professor Alford’s personal character of being so compassionate and willing to recruit international students from many disadvantaged regions of Africa and Asia. His students even commented that “[t]here are nations that will never be the same because of his gracious tenacity and commitment to enabling the Graduate Program to support students—rich and poor; from every nation, tribe and creed.” He is actually practicing the noble concept of you jiao wu lei.
Many students from Asia, Africa, and developing countries love to have formal and informal discussions with Professor Alford. Many students love to choose him as their supervisor, based on their understanding that Professor Alford is willing to listen to their thoughts (despite being preliminary and immature when they are expressed) and to give insightful feedback. Engaging in discussion with Professor Alford makes them feel comfortable and is rewarding. Here I quote Professor Ruth Okediji’s words about Professor Alford: “He has an eye for identifying promising young scholars”; he “wasn’t just a teacher; he was also an intellectual refuge. I could raise questions, bounce ideas [and] scrutinize things with him.” Professor Alford’s way of treating and nurturing students is a best practice of yin cai shi jiao.
- Having an Extensive and Compassionate Sense of Social Responsibility and Responsibility to the Community
Many law professors (but not all) in their jurisdictions have a sense of responsibility that they would devote to help their students become good lawyers and would engage in correcting social injustices. But not many people are able to consistently and continuously sacrifice their valuable time for several decades to help make society and the community better.
If we look at Professor Alford’s previous achievements, we can easily identify the enormous passion and compassion in taking up the responsibility for the matters he was proposing or handling. As mentioned above, Professor Alford currently initiates and engages in many programs to help disadvantaged people in different countries. This is a manifestation of his compassionate sense of social responsibility.
In addition, he served as vice dean for the Graduate Program and International Legal Studies at Harvard Law School for eighteen years. One might not be able to imagine that a brilliant law professor who has so many opportunities to expand his personal connections and to enhance his own academic reputation would want to spend such an extended period of time endlessly supporting the school and perpetually helping international students. He really has a very strong sense of responsibility to the school as a smaller community and to the larger community at the global level.
- Concluding Remarks
It is difficult to use such few words to describe a person who has contributed to legal education for a long time. But if one has to choose, “passion” and “compassion” are the words for such purpose. These are perfect words to describe Professor Alford.
This Tribute is prepared not merely to pay my highest respect to Professor Alford for his passion and compassion in legal education, but also to remind those who engage in legal education that there could be some elements missing in the design and practice of the current legal education in many jurisdictions. Professor Alford, being a hao laoshi and teaching both by words and by his own example, helps us to revisit the current legal education and to identify aspects of legal education that need to be emphasized.
This Tribute is not to propagate the virtues of a remarkable individual only because I know him well. I am sure people who know Professor Alford would agree on what I have mentioned. The fact that Professor Alford was awarded so many honors in so many places shows that he has been globally recognized for his academic achievements and his contributions to many societies in different corners of the world.
Professor William Alford is hao laoshi based on the most rigid standards. I am proud of the fact that he is my laoshi.
* Taiwan’s Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization (“WTO”); former Justice of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of China; former Dean of National Taiwan University College of Law. Professor Alford was the second reader of the author’s SJD thesis at Harvard Law School. The author would like to express thanks for the opportunity to participate in the publication of the Tribute. He can be reached at email@example.com.
 For a full list of Professor Alford’s areas of interest, see William P. Alford, Harv. L. Sch., https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10010/Alford (last visited Nov. 25, 2020) [hereinafter Alford].
 After 18 Years, Professor Alford Completes his Tenure as Vice Dean for the Graduate Program and ILS, Harv. L. Today (August 17, 2020), https://today.law.harvard.edu/after-18-years-professor-alford-completes-his-tenure-as-vice-dean-for-the-graduate-program-and-ils/.
 Alford, supra note 1.
 See An Oral History of the Special Olympics in China (William P. Alford, Mei Liao & Fengming Cui eds., 2020); for brief introductions of these volumes, see Our Work, HPOD, https://hpod.law.harvard.edu/publications (last visited Nov. 25, 2020).
 See HPOD, supra note 4, Our Mission.
 Board of Directors, Special Olympics, https://www.specialolympics.org/about/board-of-directors (last visited Nov. 25, 2020).
 Id. William Alford.
 Typically, each year the LLM program at Harvard Law School accepts 180 students from about 70 countries. LLM Program, Harv. L. Sch., https://hls.harvard.edu/dept/graduate-program/llm-program/ (last visited Nov. 25, 2020).
 Harv. L. Today, supra note 2.
 This is the statement made by Ruth Okediji, LLM ’91 SJD. Id.
 These honors include an honorary doctorate in law by the University of Geneva; an honorary professor or fellow at Renmin University of China, Zhejiang University, the National College of Administration, and the Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Science; the inaugural O’Melveny & Myers Centennial Award; the Kluwer China Prize; the Qatar Pearls of Praise Award; an Abe (Japan) Fellowship; and the Harvard Law School Alumni Association Award. Alford, supra note 1.