As fall semester classes wrapped up just before Thanksgiving, two of LSU Law’s longest-serving professors—who have 100 years of combined service to the law school—stepped into the classroom to teach for the very last time.
Professor Bill Crawford, who is 92 and has been the oldest faculty member on the entire LSU campus for several years now, taught his final class on Nov. 20 after 53 years with LSU Law. One week later, Professor Paul Baier led his last class after 47 years at the law school. Both announced their retirements earlier this year.
To show their appreciation for the professors’ service, Dean Tom Galligan, LSU Law faculty and staff members made a surprise visit to each of their last classes.
“No one has ever been more dedicated to your—the students’—wellbeing than our friend Bill Crawford,” Dean Galligan told the Louisiana Torts class, who presented Crawford with a signed and framed portrait they had taken with the professor days earlier.
“It’s been a wonderful class. It’s been a wonderful 53 years,” said Crawford, a World War II veteran who earned his undergraduate and law degrees at LSU, and was in private practice in New Orleans for 10 years before returning to LSU Law to teach. “Thank you so much.”
The students in Professor Baier’s final class, meanwhile, were ready with a cake to surprise him with. What they hadn’t anticipated was a Harvard tradition that momentarily postponed the celebration.
As the end of class was drawing near and a video that Baier was showing 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.
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 Galligan, faculty and staff members—as well as 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 outset of the class, before telling his students about an upcoming trip to Romania he and Barbara are planning so they can attend the wedding of a former LLM student.
The retirements of Crawford and Baier come on the heels of the June retirement of Chancellor Emeritus John Costonis, who joined LSU Law as chancellor in 1998 and served in the capacity through 2007 before becoming the Judge Albert Tate and Rosemary Neal Hawkland Professor of Law. Prior to his time at LSU Law, Costonis was dean of Vanderbilt University Law School for 11 years.
In his roughly nine years as chancellor, Costonis oversaw several major transformations and upgrades at LSU Law, including a roughly $20 million renovation of the LSU Law Center, the creation of new programs and a major update of the civil law curriculum.
Costonis says securing raises for faculty members, working to increase alumni donations, boosting student recruitment efforts and investing in the LSU Law Library are also among his proudest achievements as chancellor.
“I think I can take some credit for helping the law school build on what was rich and special about it before my time there,” he says.
Since retiring, Costonis has finished up what may be his final two legal papers—one of which will be published by the Louisiana Law Review in the coming months—and embraced a much less hectic schedule than he used to keep.
“Some people really struggle with retirement, but honest to god, I don’t mind having some free time for a change,” says the 82-year-old Boston native who plans to spend his retirement in Baton Rouge, which he has called home since becoming LSU Law chancellor in 1998. “I’m not eager to be running off to some other place at my age. We have so many friends here, and like my wife says: If you’re not having fun here, then there’s something wrong with you.”
Along with spending time with family and friends, Costonis has been turning his attention in recent months to some of his greatest interests: philosophy, classical music and reading the classics in foreign languages.
“I really want to learn Latin so I can read ‘The Iliad’ in it. I love the classics and I love philosophy,” says Costonis, who already speaks five languages and earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy at Harvard in 1959. “I also love classical music and I play the cello, so I’ll be developing those interests and doing a lot of reading.”