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Enhancing law education by bringing cases to the classroom

Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013

Updated: Sunday, February 3, 2013 22:02

His bookshelves are packed with deep blue and red spines of all different widths. At first glance, it is an unassuming, typical bookshelf of a college professor. What you will not know from first glance is that most of these books are the culmination of his life’s work.

But for David Twomey, professor in the business law department, professional triumphs are not something he boasts about. “You don’t need to write this down,” he said with a modest smile as he recounted a call he received from the White House in 1986. Twomey was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to a three person Presidential Emergency Board, whose recommendations served as the basis of the resolution of a multi-issue labor dispute between six railroad unions. Twomey’s success did not go unnoticed, and he was asked back to serve on Boards for President George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush to resolve major disputes in the rail and airline industries.

Twomey was also elected to the National Academy of Arbitrators in 1979 and has been selected by employers and unions as arbitrator for over 2,000 labor-management disputes throughout the country. A significant portion of his bookshelf houses accounts of his labor arbitration decisions. Twomey recounted how the experience of being an arbitrator has shaped him immensely. Part of the process includes involvement in real life cases: going to paper mills, factories, schools, and airlines.

“I hear real life problems and get exposed to current issues of the day,” Twomey said. His involvement in arbitration has exposed him to the reality of the material he teaches in his classes.

“Everything is a story—I’ve had wonderful experiences, heartfelt sometimes,” he said. “As an arbitrator, you really get to see life, and you hope that you can communicate that reality to your students and bring those cases to life in class.”  

Although he has made quite a splash outside of the Boston College bubble, Twomey has been incredibly successful at BC. His journey has been engrained in the threadwork of BC. Twomey attended Boston College High School, attended BC as an undergraduate, served in the Marine Corps from 1956-58, and returned to BC for Law School. After graduation, he had the opportunity to teach at BC. “I decided I’d come for a while and see what it’s like to teach at my school,” he said. “Forty-four years later, I’m still here, and I love being here every day.”

Twomey teaches Introduction to Law and Legal Processes, a CSOM core class that introduces students to the legal process and offers an overview of law in summary form. Additionally, substantive specific concepts are taught, such as contract law, antitrust law, and constitutional law. He also teaches the Labor and Employment Law class, in which students study in detail the broad labor and employment laws that law students will be exposed to in their management careers. Twomey has written the textbooks for both courses. He wrote the Business Law textbook with co-author Marianne Jennings from Arizona State University, and wrote the entire Labor and Employment textbook by himself, and has published 34 editions.

Twomey does his research during the year, scouring information on cases that have been decided in his subject areas.

“There are thousands of cases, but you have to select those that have a teaching value, that have exciting fact patterns that students will relate to,” Twomey said. For his research, he goes to the BC law school and reads the Supreme Court cases as they come out on “advanced sheets.” He diligently assesses the different cases and spots ones that he could use for his books. Once he has gathered the current cases he finds pertinent, he spends the summertime at BC writing his chapters. “I never leave BC, but I love it,” he said.

The most rewarding part of teaching for Twomey is getting to know his students. His teaching philosophy for all of his 44 years of professorship has been to get to know every one of his students personally. He has notecards with information about each of his students, and he re-reads them until he feels he knows his students. Despite the fact that he may be teaching a lecture class of 60 students, he notes the imperativeness of building a community in the classroom—making sure people get to know each other and become friends for life.

Twomey, who has essentially never left BC, has watched as it has evolved over time, as a school and as a student body. He was able to watch the construction of Gasson Tower as it came together, and witness Stokes come alive over the summer. As a member of the labor union, he even worked as a construction worker in the summer of 1961 and actually helped to build McElroy. He might possibly be the only person on campus who is distressed by the possibility that the building might be torn down.

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