Frank Rudy Cooper joined the Boyd School of Law in June 2018 as a professor; the director of the program on race, gender, and policing; and as a highly rated teacher of Criminal Procedure: Investigation, Criminal Law, and Race, Gender, & Law. He also has taught at Villanova University School of Law, Boston College Law School, and Suffolk University Law School. As impressive as these accomplishments are, he still finds time for expanding his horizons through reading, writing, and enjoying the talent that was Sir George Michael.
Biggest misconception about your job
Sometimes people think the job of a professor of criminal procedure is just to crank out prosecutors and defense attorneys. As the state’s law school, we are certainly going to produce many prosecutors and defenders. The key, though, is for those attorneys to be reflective. They should be asking, “What are my ethical duties? How did identities, such as race, enter into this equation? Which policies might lead to a fairer criminal justice system?” I continue to think about how to nurture lawyers who are thoughtful about the criminal justice system.
An a-ha moment in your career
I was working for a big firm in bankruptcy law, and it showed me that I needed to find a different path. I read a career book called Do What You Are, and realized I should be doing what it takes to be a law professor. Bankruptcy was actually more fun than I expected. But if I was going to work 70 hours a week, I wanted to do something I loved. I was lucky enough to have a critical race theory professor as a mentor and he said, “You can do this.” So, I started assisting in the teaching of race and gender courses at Harvard, and that set me on my path to Villanova University School of Law.
A depiction of your field that makes you cringe
Hmm, the one that comes to mind is John Grisham’s, The Firm. I enjoyed the book, but it kind of glorifies firm life — just don’t pick the one run by the mob. The vast majority of lawyers do not go to prestigious firms. And they still make a living and definitely do more to make the world a better place.
Worst advice you’ve ever received
To pursue college courses that I wasn’t interested in just to try to be more marketable to jobs. (I received) my worst grades and I’m hardly a better person for taking them. It turns out you work harder and learn more when you are enjoying the process. Go figure.
What you did last weekend
Let’s see. We had friends over for Shabbat dinner, and that was fun. But let me tell you about two weekends ago: We returned to Massachusetts to watch my stepdaughter graduate early from Smith College. One of the things that struck me was how much she benefited from the fact that her parents worked together well. We were kind of a little commercial for blended families.
Christmas music: yea or nay?
I absolutely love Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. I also like George Michael’s Last Christmas. Even though I remember Wham being perceived as a joke when they first came out, Sir George Michael’s music is a world treasure.
Your biggest misconception about Las Vegas
I didn’t realize how much there was to the Vegas area besides The Strip. Summerlin could be a small city of its own, and Henderson is its own city. I have found the quality of life to be great. We are convenient to everything, including shopping, entertainment, and so on.
The most Vegas thing you’ve done since you got here
Well, I would say that I did Red Rock but I don’t think driving through counts. Having lunch outside in the dead of winter seems uniquely Southwestern to me. I came from Cambridge (Massachusetts) and people were excited that it was 50 degrees and gray one day in December. I’ve already become spoiled by the weather.
Last book you couldn’t put down
This won’t strike many people as a page-turner, but I could not let go of Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. It helped me understand some of the fears that whites have when entering conversations about race. I’ve definitely seen fear and avoidance in large classrooms. But race has not gone away. In an era when certain types of immigrants are targeted and racial profiling continues, we need to be able to have honest and productive conversations about race. DiAngelo walks people through how racism works in a very accessible way. I think DiAngelo is right in her theory that some people are resistant to talking about race because they have dated views about objectivity and individualism.
I agree with those two critiques. Since there is no “view from nowhere,” everyone looks at the world in light of their experiences and worldviews. We should try to be fair, but we can’t be purely objective. Likewise, unless you grew up on Mars, you know that there are recognized social groups based on bodily appearance. We can pretend to be “colorblind,” but that inevitably means we will sometimes fail to see certain things. Take, for instance, bathrooms. We don’t say we are going to eliminate the women’s room to make women equal because we know that social norms sometimes treat women differently. Fairness means treating likes alike, but it also means treating dissimilars differently.