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A lead to follow

Legal education in the United States has changed significantly over the years, but a key tenet has remained intact over time: Students still learn by example.

Students enrolled in the Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law have an excellent example to learn from in Judge Allan H. Davis, JD ’68. The recently retired Hancock County probate and juvenile court judge spent a record 40 years on the bench of the Hancock County Court of Common Pleas. For four decades, he impacted the lives of thousands citizens of Northwest Ohio. His jurisdiction afforded him the awesome responsibility of presiding over families. He formed them through marriages and adoptions. He worked to save them by applying the legal protections afforded to children. And he perpetuated them through administration of estates and the probate of wills.

“Judge Davis’ remarkable commitment to civility, and maintaining an even-handed approach to justice, are the kinds of things that future students will identify with him,” said David Crago, dean of the College of Law. “He had an enormous commitment to the welfare of those folks whose families – whose children – were in front of him.”

Thanks to a recent gift to the University from Davis, students will learn to follow his example in a stunning new lecture hall bearing his name. On Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, ONU President Dan DiBiasio presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially dedicate the Judge Allan H. Davis Lecture Hall in the Tilton Hall of Law.

“Yesterday, we saw the moon pass over the sun, and today we are all over the moon over the fact that we are here to dedicate this wonderful classroom for Judge Allan Davis, and to thank him for making this possible for us,” said DiBiasio.

The gift funded a renovation of Room 125, one of three identical lecture halls in Tilton. Prior to this summer’s eight-week renovation, the three rooms had ably provided a setting to educate students, unchanged, for 44 years. The new Davis Lecture Hall reflects the changing pedagogy of legal education with an updated, modern space.

According to Crago, legal education has evolved due to changes in what is taught, how it is delivered and where students learn. In 300 years, law students went from reading treatises and commentaries in back rooms of law offices alone, to studying case law in universities with dozens, or even hundreds, of fellow students. Today, legal education is technology-dependent, meaning law schools need to have appropriate tools to educate students. The Davis Lecture Hall is very much a “smart” classroom, with twin 80-inch high-definition displays with full internet connectivity, video conferencing and lecture-capture ability. It is equipped with document cameras so students can collaborate and draft and edit legal documents.

But perhaps more important than the technology in the room are the changes to the room itself. First, the ceiling was raised and a second window added to increase natural light. The terraced, stadium-style lecture hall was leveled during the renovation to make the new room accessible to all. To meet the project’s eight-week timeline, Corna-Kokosing engineers pumped in a lightweight fill material that didn’t exert pressure on the walls. That material was then topped with concrete, creating a level surface that allowed reorientation of the room 90 degrees. Now, instead of students looking down over the back of the heads of the students in front of them at a professor below, they can look across a room and see both the professor and their peers.

“We put the faculty in the middle of the students to allow them to manage discussion and encourage student participation in a much more engaged way than standing in the front and trying to find someone who is 30 yards to the rear,” said Crago. “Pedagogically, this classroom is ideal for what we want to do here. It is certainly a substantial step forward both in terms of its usefulness and in terms of its ability to help us educate successfully.”

The room can now accommodate more than 70 students, which makes it suitable for any class offered by the law college. In addition to being a classroom space, the Davis Lecture Hall will be the likely location for faculty and student organization meetings, and the venue for many future guest speakers and presentations.

“I think you should reward people who help you in your life, and Ohio Northern has done so much for me,” said Davis. “It gave me a profession that I’ve practiced for nearly 50 years, and that would not have been possible had it not been for this wonderful university. This is just a partial payment back.”

While a student at Ohio Northern, Davis was a member of Delta Theta Phi and sat on the Student Bar Association Executive Board. Since graduating from Ohio Northern in 1968, Davis has actively supported the University. He was inducted as a Lifetime Member of the Lehr Society in 2015.

“Judge Allan Davis is the kind of person who always remembers his roots and is committed to giving back to benefit the next generation,” said Vice President for University Advancement Shannon Spencer. “This gift will inspire and help many students.”

Legal education will likely continue to evolve in the years to come, but some lessons remain true forever. Through Davis’ passion for the law, commitment to those he served and dedication to the institutions that promote justice, Ohio Northern law students will continue to learn the law in the best ways possible.