The students in Professor Paul Baier’s final class were ready with a cake to surprise the professor with and celebrate his upcoming retirement, after 47 years at LSU Law and time at University of Michigan Law School and Tennessee College of Law prior to his arrival in Baton Rouge.
What the students hadn’t anticipated was a Harvard tradition that momentarily postponed the surprise.
As the end of class was drawing near and a video that Baier was showing it concluded, the professor—a 1969 Harvard Law School graduate—simply stood up, announced “class dismissed” and walked out of the classroom.
After a moment of confusion, one of the students ran into the hallway and politely asked the professor to come back inside, where the students surprised him with the cake and applause.
As Baier thanked his students and explained that it’s an old Harvard tradition for retiring professors to simply exit their final class without remark, he was further surprised by Dean Tom Galligan, dozens of LSU Law faulty and staff members, and his wife, Barbara, who all streamed into the classroom to applaud him.
Though he hadn’t planned on commenting on his career and retirement at the end of class, the professor referred to them several times throughout his final lesson.
“What shall I say? Bittersweet? Yes. But never mind, it’s now time to live,” he said near the start of the class, and then told the students about an upcoming trip to Romania he and Barbara are planning so they can attend the wedding of a former LLM student.
“When I came to the LSU Law Center in 1972 I was but a boy,” he said later in the class, “but I’ve grown up, and I’ve grown up in large measure because of the lawyers who’ve walked my path.”
Baier is retiring in January. He was selected by his Harvard Law School classmates to chair their 50th class reunion in late October in Cambridge, Massachusetts.The capstone of his career at LSU Law, a biography of Colonel Frederick Bernays Wiener titled “Written in Water: An Experiment in Legal Biography,” will be published by Twelve Tables Press in early 2020. Here’s a gallery of photos from his final class on Wednesday, Nov. 27: