Remembering James Ghiardi

Head and shoulders portrait of Law School professor James Ghiardi.

I joined the Marquette University Law School faculty in 1992. Back then, it was traditional to start off the school year with a marathon faculty meeting the weekend prior to the start of classes. I dutifully showed up (I forget if it was a Saturday or a Sunday) and sat through the longest and most boring meeting of my life up to that point. Since joining academia, I am sad to say, I have subsequently attended longer and more boring meetings. Still, that particular meeting was a slog.

In any event, I sat quietly all day long and didn’t say a word. At the end of the meeting, Jim Ghiardi observed, in a loud voice for the benefit of the entire room, “I am so glad to see that our newest faculty member has the good sense to keep his mouth shut and listen for a while before sharing his opinions.” Wow. If that was how Professor Ghiardi treated junior faculty, I thought, I could only imagine how he terrorized his students.

After that meeting, I quickly determined that it would be a good idea to invite Jim to lunch. We met at the Alumni Memorial Union, where I asked Jim’s advice on how to be a successful law school teacher. I continued to keep my mouth shut and listen. We got along fabulously.

Jim Ghiardi was demanding (of both students and his colleagues). It is true that his demeanor could be fearsome, but he was also very giving of his time and his advice. He mentored countless Marquette lawyers and law school faculty members over many decades. In some ways, Professor James Ghiardi was Marquette Law School during large parts of the Twentieth Century.

I always understood Jim’s gruff manner as a form of a challenge. It was his way of asking his colleagues in the law “Are you giving your very best effort to this profession?” Once he determined that you were, then the gruff exterior disappeared and he was both charming and affable.

I like to think that I passed Jim Ghiardi’s test. There are thousands of Marquette lawyers who were similarly challenged by Professor Ghiardi, and who also passed Jim’s test. All Jim ever asked of any of us was our absolute best.

That is what I demand from my students today. And that is what I learned from Jim Ghiardi.

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