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Legally speaking, we're almost home

ASU Law transition is nearly complete; will open in time for fall semester.
ASU Law grand opening will celebrate new era of access, community connections.
July 26, 2016

ASU Law settles into new building on Downtown Phoenix campus, capping most significant move in its history

Arizona State University’s law school dean was candid about the transition into his $129 million new digs.

“There is no easy move,” said Doug Sylvester, head of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, checking off the complications of going from a squat, tan building in Tempe to a sparkling state-of-the-art facility in downtown Phoenix. “There were a lot of hiccups. No power. Some of the computer systems weren’t running. And issues with lighting, heating and cooling.”

But it’s almost over, he said.

On Aug. 15, ASU Law plans to celebrate the grand opening of its new home at the Arizona Center for Law and Society, capping a decade-long relocation project aimed at making the school more accessible to top lawyers, government officials and everyday people.

“The goal is to create a single point where students, educators, political leaders, the legal community and the public can interact and connect,” Sylvester said. “That is different than any other law school in the country.”

'Pardon my dust'

A few stragglers remain at Armstrong Hall, ASU Law’s home since its inception in 1967. The overwhelming majority of the college’s faculty and staff, meanwhile, are already settling into their new 280,000-square-foot, six-story space, which is “still a bit of a mess,” Sylvester said, as crews finish their work.   

It’s been a bustling scene recently. As Sylvester spoke, a worker jackhammered a sidewalk, a loading dock filled with shipments and movers hauled furniture and equipment past “pardon my dust” signs.  

In a few weeks, ASU Law, one of 12 occupants inside the Center for Law and Society building, will be home to 900 students. The group will be closer to the state Capitol and legal district, providing them with better access to internships and professional opportunities, Sylvester said.

The school’s location and design mark a departure from traditional law school “fortresses,” as Sylvester called them, that refrain from community and civic engagement. ASU Law’s new home features open spaces, retractable walls and glass-enclosed classrooms to encourage interaction and transparency, Sylvester said.

“If you put up doors and guards and security, members of the general community are not going to come in because they feel unwelcome the minute they arrive,” Sylvester said. “It was more expensive to build this way, but we felt that was necessary and think it is part of our mission.”

Finding a new home

The move has been a priority for ASU President Michael Crow since at least 2003 when he and Phoenix’s mayor at the time, Phil Gordon, met for breakfast and sketched — on a plain, white napkin — a downtown campus that could enhance the creativity in the city’s core.

The sketch became a blueprint for ASU’s vision of the urban college experience: a campus geared toward city-minded students drawn to professional development and service-oriented careers in government, media, nonprofit, medical and legal work.

Phoenix voters approved a $223 million bond plan about three years after Crow and Gordon’s meeting to pay for ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, which includes several colleges serving about 12,000 students. The measure passed easily with two-thirds of the vote. What wasn’t so easy was finding available land for the building that would become home to ASU Law.

In 2010, a vacant motel came up for sale and the city of Phoenix purchased it for $5 million, using the last of the bond funds. ASU and city officials celebrated, but a contingent of preservationists pushed back.

The former Sahara Motor Inn, built in 1955, had been a mid-century marvel with period-style materials that included red brick, mosaic tiles and floor-to-ceiling glass. Marilyn Monroe stayed in one of the inn’s two penthouses during the filming of “Bus Stop.” But the sentimental push, led by the Downtown Voices Coalition, fell short for a building that had most recently been a pink-stucco Ramada Inn.

Work started in 2014 after the city provided the land and an additional $12 million to start construction.

Some say it was none too soon.

“We were bursting at the seams,” facilities manager Allan B. Crouch said. “We actually had to put file cabinets out in the hallways because of the school’s growth.”

Armstrong Hall, ASU Law’s home on the Tempe campus, went through two major renovations and an expansion over its five-decade history, but still had an array of problems that included a leaky roof and faulty plumbing. 

Also, there were stacks of legal and research papers at every turn.

In addition to the hallway file cabinets, professor Zachary Kramer joked that one of his colleagues had “piles of papers larger than the size of me.”

That won’t be an issue downtown. Law school faculty and staff, including the Ross-Blakely Law Library, were told to go digital by purging most of their books and papers before the move.

Victoria Trotta, the law library’s assistant dean, was put in charge of shedding nearly 240 tons of material. That much paper, laid end to end, would stretch between New York and Los Angeles more than three times.

The process took five years and contractors had to install a special trash chute to accommodate the work, Trotta said. Most of the books were recycled or sent to other institutions, she said.   

Reflecting growth

The new building reflects the growth of ASU Law, which bucks a national trend, Sylvester said. Law schools across the U.S. have cut staff amid declining enrollments over the last five years, he said.

Not so at ASU. Aside from increases in students and staff, the law school has also secured a top 25 ranking from U.S. News and World Report and has been recognized as the top school in the state for graduates successfully passing the bar exam.

Sylvester is looking to build on that momentum in the Arizona Center for Law and Society, which also has spaces for think tanks, several legal aid clinics, a first teaching law firm and a permanent office for retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“It’s a place where if you think you need a lawyer, we can help you find one or refer you to a firm,” Sylvester said. “That feature is really unique among any law school in the country and advances the ASU mission across the board.”

As with any exciting move, some are experiencing bittersweet feelings as well.

Dawn Lee, director of the law school’s career services division, attended ASU’s law school more than 20 years ago and feels an attachment to the Tempe building.

But, “I’m really excited about the move. It’ll be an amazing experience for all of us to be in that environment.”

Top photo: Volumes of microfilm are among the items that had to be moved in order for ASU Law to transition into its new home in downtown Phoenix. Library assistant Andrew Story helps pack up in Tempe on on Monday, June 13. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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ASU's Future Tense Fiction to re-think future through sci-fi.
You don't have to speak Klingon to appreciate fictional stories about the future
July 26, 2016

New ASU sci-fi venture to engage broader audience in thinking, talking about what might lie ahead

Not everybody is a fan of sci-fi. For some, the mere mention of the genre is enough to make their eyes glaze over at the thought of talk about the mechanics of intergalactic space travel or the feasibility of lightsabers.

But you don’t have to speak Klingon to appreciate a story of intense joy, grief or hope. And that's what Center for Science and the Imagination director Ed Finn and his colleague Joey Eschrich want more people to consider.

“Science-fiction stories can be really human stories that are character-driven and full of emotion,” said Eschrich, editor and program manager for the ASU center.

With that in mind, the pair conceived of a means by which they might engage a larger audience in thinking and talking about what might lie ahead. They’re calling it Future Tense Fiction.

Future Tense already existed as a partnership between Arizona State University, Slate magazine and the New America Foundation, manifesting as a series of events as well as a channel on Slate’s website. Its goal is to explore how emerging technologies will change the way we live. Future Tense Fiction is taking that one step further, “giving people new avenues to think about technologies that are going to affect science and policy going forward through science-fiction stories,” Future Tense editor Torie Bosch said.

For this newest venture, Bosch, Eschrich and Finn are working together to commission new stories from high profile sci-fi writers and pairing them with response essays written by experts in the field. They'll be published roughly once every quarter.

The first, “Mika Model” by Paolo Bacigalupi, about robotics, was published in April of 2016. It was paired with a response essay by robotics law expert Ryan Calo, titled “When a Robot Kills, Is It Murder or Product Liability?

ASU Now recently sat down with Finn to find out more:

portrait of Ed Finn

Ed Finn, director of ASU

Q: How did the idea for Future Tense Fiction come about?

Answer: The Center for Science and the Imagination works regularly with science-fiction writers, and we often pair up science-fiction writers with researchers to explore big, interesting, ambitious, possible ideas — things that are technically feasible but still kind of moon shots. We wanted to do something that was a little bit more playful, a little bit more open-ended. … So for Future Tense Fiction, we came up with this idea as a way to reach a broader audience, and we wanted to attract high-profile writers and invite them in a more open-ended way to take on some kind of topic that was interesting to them that fit into the broad rubric of Future Tense. So we were excited about that as a way to extend our vision for thinking about the future to new audiences.

Q: Why are you pairing the stories with essay responses?

A: Torie Bosch, who is the editor of Future Tense at Slate, suggested that we find somebody to write an essay responding to Paolo Bacigalupi’s story. And I suggested this guy, Ryan Calo, kind of off-the-cuff, and I think he just did a really awesome job. I was really delighted with [his piece] … and really pleased with how he approached it. His response was exactly the kind of thing we’ve been trying to do at the center. His response to Paolo’s story was sort of like, “You know, this story crystallized some things that I sort of knew and thought about in my field but made them more pointed and really clear in a way that I find helpful.” And I really liked that. Part of our mission statement, or our hope, is that science-fiction can be really helpful as a tool to do that. And stories more generally can be useful as a tool to do that. And one of the things that can be useful for a researcher is to work with a writer and have a story shed some new light on their work, because it brings ideas into a new juxtaposition.

Q: What does storytelling bring to science?

A: I am a firm believer that we understand the world through stories. Stories are a way to deal with complexity and to deal with the unknown, and to organize knowledge in a way that makes sense for humans. It’s one thing to come up with a new technology that has certain technical characteristics that we know operates in a lab. It’s another thing to tell a story about what room in the house you’re going to put this in, and where the buttons go, and how it makes everybody feel. [Science-fiction] stories are about the interface of science and society; it is the genre that explores that interface most closely, and most importantly, does that not just in the context of the present but also the future. Science-fiction stories are really helpful in thinking through the potential consequences, the ethical implications of research, etc. But they’re also really valuable in helping us understand the world that we want to live in. They’re a way to synthesize. So a good science-fiction writer doesn’t just take one idea and turn it into a story. A good science-fiction writer takes many ideas and brings them together into something that feels like a holistic universe, and feels like a compelling environment, a realistic environment. Because in reality, you’re never only dealing with one thing at a time. You can never isolate a problem. The problem is always connected to other problems. And there are always humans involved, making things complicated and messy, and often making irrational choices. So that’s what stories have to bring to science. They help us think through the future in a richer and more nuanced way.

Q: What kinds of topics will Future Tense Fiction stories explore?

A: In general, the range is really wide open. We want to include a really diverse set of issues as we move forward. One of the topics that we’re thinking about for this fall is law and order. Thinking about the intersection of science, technology and society in terms of criminal justice and ethical policing and all of these different issues that we’re seeing playing out in the news right now.

Q: Do you have any personal favorite sci-fi stories?

A: Oh gosh, lots. The conversation that started the center was between Michael Crow and the author Neal Stephenson. And I’m a huge Neal Stephenson fan, I grew up reading his work. One of the best parts of my job is getting to work with him occasionally. Recently, I just finished reading “The Three-Body Problem,” which is a really interesting Chinese science-fiction novel that was translated into English and won several major awards when it was translated. Liu Cixin is the author, and it’s translated by Ken Liu, who’s a lawyer and a science-fiction writer. I read all sorts of stuff, from the sort of more classic stuff, like Arthur C. Clarke and [Isaac] Asimov, to weirder, more recent stuff, like China Miéville. I’m a huge Margaret Atwood fan. Another highlight for me was having her out here two years ago and interviewing her, which was a really awesome experience. Another favorite is Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which is another big focus for us this year with the bicentennial coming up. I really liked “The Expanse.” I just finished watching the first season of that. It’s based on some novels by James S. A. Corey; I haven’t read the books yet, but I really enjoyed the TV show.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with Future Tense Fiction?

A: I’d like people who don’t normally read science-fiction to read one of these short stories … and to have people step into a future that’s surprising and provocative in an interesting way, and to maybe have a conversation about it. Or in the case of people whose work is impacted by the subject of the story, who are working on some part of the future that the story evokes, that they might think about their work differently, or learn something new, or be prompted to ask a different kind of question. I think that at its best, an experiment like this can lead people to think differently about the future, not just in the context of a make-believe story but in the context of reality. To build a better future, you have to be able to imagine it. So I hope that some of these science-fiction stories lead people to imagine things that might make the world a better place, or help us avoid things that we really don’t want to happen.