Monday, November 06, 2006

Scott H. Bice: Honoring Passion, Commitment and Excellence at the University of Southern California

Each spring, the University of Southern California presents its highest award, an honorary degree, to a select few of several deserving nominees. According to the Honorary Degree Nomination Process, this award is given to individuals who have in short distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements, made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC, participated in exceptional acts of philanthropy and elevated the university in the eyes of the world. The most deserving individual for a Doctoral Degree in Laws for the upcoming spring 2007 ceremony is Scott H. Bice, a man that encompasses all of the above and more. Born into a family of Trojans with both his mother and father having received degrees at USC, Bice continued the legacy. After receiving a Bachelor of Science in Finance from USC in 1965 and a J.D. from the USC Gould School of Law in 1969 where he was editor-in-chief of the Southern California Law Review, Bice went on to serve as clerk to Chief Justice Earl Warren of the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, he became dean of the USC Gould School of Law from 1980- 2000, which made him not only the third most senior sitting dean of any ABA-accredited law school, but also one of the longest serving deans in the history of USC.

The Summer 2000 edition of the Trojan Family Magazine notes that during his tenure, Scott Bice has been credited with improving the quality of the USC law school by having doubled the size of its facilities, drawn in students from all over the country with “two-thirds of its enrollment from elsewhere" and run three successful fundraising campaigns that brought in nearly $50 million dollars. He also expanded “the school’s reputation for interdisciplinary legal scholarship and built strong programs in law and economics, law and humanities and clinical education.” Bice and his wife Barbara have also doubled the size of a scholarship fund that was created by friends and alumni of the law school in honor of Bice’s retirement as dean. Although he will forever be respected for his role as dean, Scott Bice has recently taken on the role of professor once again teaching constitutional law, federal jurisdiction and torts while continuing his dedication to USC. It is clear that Scott Bice is a man of many talents and is continuously revered for the time, accomplishments and growth he has provided to the USC Gould School of Law. However, one may argue that Bice has done too much within the scope of USC and not enough for the world outside of the Trojan bubble.

According to James O. Freedman, author of Liberal Education and the Public Interest and president emeritus of the University of Iowa and Dartmouth College, the presentation of an honorary degree allows the university to share with the world “the qualities of character and attainment it admires the most” and “is a practice rich in opportunity as well as ripe for abuse” (117). It is said that a university often awards a member of its faculty or an alumnus who has given the university a great deal of money rather than on more honorable merits. If Scott Bice is awarded, however, there is plenty of evidence to prove that he is well deserved based on his accomplishments rather than solely on his commitment to the school. Bice has helped the law school become a “nationally recognized institution” an often daunting task which requires genuine work within the school that is judged not by university affiliates but those outside. Bice serves as a deserving nominee through his “outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC,” another necessary criterion for an honorary degree. It is often the activities that occur within a school that allows there to be graduates to better the world yet feel connected to their roots that reside in the sphere of their alma mater. The university is not wrong to address the good that a particular faculty member has brought to the school, but rather, it is exercising its right to present an honor. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote to his son-in-law “one should accept 'only those public testimonials which are earned by merit' " (Freedman 122).

In his book, Freedman articulates that “it has been proposed that one honorary degree per person ought to be enough” (128). Scott Bice has been awarded time and time again for his accomplishments and role as dean for positions both within and outside the school. The uscLAW Magazine reveals that his awards include the "Associates Award for Excellence in Teaching," given to him twice, which is “the highest honor given by the university faculty to one of its members.” He is also the recipient of the Robert C. Packard Professor of Law award. Bice served as a visiting professor at the prestigious University of Virginia Law School and California Institute of Technology proving, as mentioned in the criteria, to “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.” Yet, all of the aforementioned achievements could deem an honorary degree nomination to be redundant. As in the case with South African novelist Nadine Gordimer in regards to the acceptance of several honors, it has often been found that “one devalues the whole process if one allows vanity to pile them up” (Freedman 129). However, one may question – Is verbal praise a repetition of honor and if so, what makes an award any different from constant praise?

According to USC President Steven B. Sample,“Scott is the consummate teacher, scholar and administrator” and according to the current dean, Matthew Spitzer ’76 who was once Bice’s student, “Watching Scott Bice teach is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. It’s perfection, pure and simple." In addition, one of Bice’s own Professors, Martin Levine, who once asked Bice to substitute for him while Bice was only a third-year law student has said, “The student consensus over the years is that Scott not only is a remarkable instructor, he is the best teacher they have ever known.” This statement has been repeated decade after decade by alumni and faculty alike. To have students, professors, colleagues and others show respect and share words of appreciation and awe from their own experience stands for a great deal while again exemplifying the honorary criteria as to how “widely known and highly regarded” Scott Bice is for his achievements. There comes a time when praise within the scope of the university or field in which a potential honoree excels can prove to be greater than what any award can accomplish.

Honoring donors has been a highly controversial issue in the decision process of awarding an honorary degree. The purpose of honoring one who has portrayed eminent personal achievement has been “modified – some would say blighted – by institutional desires to flatter generous donors and prospective benefactors to whom more relaxed standards (typically pecuniary) are typically applied” (Freedman 126). Although this may be the case in certain honorary degree achievements there still remain several cases where a significant financial gift has been presented with good intention. The subject of donors' intentions is discussed in Mike W. Martin’s book, Meaningful Work, where it is said that professionals claim to care about their contributions “for the sake of the people they serve rather than solely for private gain” (12). The one million dollar donation that Bice and his wife made to the scholarship fund created in their name proves Bice’s commitment to the school not on the basis of selfishness but rather for the betterment of the law school, its abilities to meet its students' needs and to honor those students. In the Winter 2000 edition of the Trojan Family Magazine, Bice shares his perspective in regards to the gift as “a natural extension” of the relationship his family has had with USC. Bice also shares that because he and his wife have no children, he is aware of the fact that all of their accomplishments will eventually be in the hands of charity. After spending 20 years convincing others to make a promise to the university, it “seemed absolutely natural and easy” and a truly noble decision for his family to contribute to their greatest ability.

All benevolent acts should not be deemed selfish. In Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith argues that the motive behind involving oneself with a particular profession lies in the desire for “the reputation, which attends upon superior excellence” which according to Martin means “money and social esteem are all that motivate professionals” (13). If this were the case, however, Bice's faculty would not have had the need to talk him out of retiring from his deanship twice. A truly selfish individual who is only after good for himself would continue such a deanship for the mere enjoyment of praise and honor. Bice’s reasons for being dean were not solely for his own good but rather as stated in the USC Mission Statement, due to his “closeness and willingness to help” a true example of USC’s “genuinely supportive community." Scott Bice’s reflection follows that “It’s nice when your colleagues appreciate what you’re doing. I’ve found the dean’s job rewarding and stimulating.” He admits that he too enjoyed the job, but from all that he accomplished during his tenure, the enjoyment factor is not his only motivation for staying committed. It is often appreciation which drives greater amounts of good and specific inspiration, which elicits ones’ calling.

Bice’s first introduction to teaching was at the young age of 16 when he was a counselor at a summer camp for Boy Scouts. He taught, “swimming, canoeing and life-saving skills to 11-year olds,” and he remembers how rewarding it was for him to see the quick improvements in his students. He continued this very job for seven years and even met his wife during his final year there. Bice compares teaching swimming to teaching first year law students: “Both groups are being challenged to do things they’ve not done before. There’s a certain level of anxiety about their ability — yet they’re eager, interested, engaged. And you’re helping them acquire skills and knowledge that makes them different from when you first met them." For Bice, this very reality was the most rewarding part of all. He took this ability of his and has continuously used it to demonstrate USC’s Code of Ethics by being “attentive to the well-being of students” in order to facilitate in their success. It is no surprise that many feel that it is an act of luck to have Bice as a professor. He is a man filled with great passion for what he does and, honored or not, he will continue his journey.

In September of 2005, the USC Gould School of Law made an announcement that Queenscare, a leading provider in healthcare and insurance for low-income families in the county of Los Angeles presented the law school with $1.5 million in order to establish the Scott H. Bice Chair in Healthcare Law, Policy and Ethics. The purpose of the chair is to improve the leadership, research, and education in the legal area of healthcare and to better aid the people Queenscare assists in hopes of making a difference in national healthcare. Bice’s contributions to the school are still continuing even after his retirement as dean. His interest in healthcare and its legal aspects is something Martin would describe as “the ‘real’ or authentic self, which is not an isolated atom but is defined and fulfilled through concerns of good beyond the self” (22). A chair such as the one created for Scott H. Bice is not handed out every day. It is only created when deserved and it takes several selfless acts to prove that one is worthy of such an honor. This accomplishment portrays the Code of Ethics USC prides itself in by “respecting the rights and dignity of others;” specifically, those without the ability to voice their distress. Bice also realizes that one can only lead for so long and that changes are always necessary and advantageous. He shares this thought in an interview by the Trojan Family Magazine in which he says, “I think institutions benefit from having a change in leadership from time to time. You hope that all the good things that have been accomplished continue, but fresh eyes are going to see new opportunities and see new directions that could be undertaken.” This is an understanding only a true leader would hold – a leader who realizes that although his guiding time may expire, his passion and commitment never will.

Scott Bice is unquestionably deserving of an honorary degree. His past, present and near future prove his utmost devotion and drive for the field of law, the betterment of the community and those in need. He exemplifies what it means to be a true citizen of the University of Southern California that extends beyond the classroom and the law school into the issues that many face in the real world. His love for law has proven to be a great asset for all, including himself. If USC is to present Scott Bice with an honorary degree, they will have met their many requirements
which include honoring “distinguished” individuals who have done something truly remarkable in their respective professions, honoring an alumni or individual who made an “outstanding” contribution to the school and its communities, honoring “exceptional acts of philanthropy” to the school and the country, and lastly, honoring an individual who has “elevated” the school in the eyes of everyone as someone who is highly accomplished in their endeavors.

Scott Bice is the poster child of a University of Southern California honoree and he will be a great addition to the already impressive list of previous honorees. As Freedman beautifully articulated, “In conferring honorary degrees, I hoped to persuade our students and commencement guests that each honorand’s character and attainment were worthy of emulation and admiration. So long as every recipient meets that mark, a college is entitled to believe that the public ritual of awarding honorary degrees addresses sacred matters and illuminates the relevance of a liberal education to the lives of men and women” (132). Scott Bice will leave more than a great memory for students and faculty during any commencement ceremony. He will light a fire within each heart that will blaze for years, continuing the Trojan mission and legacy of “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.”


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