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In Memoriam Professor Craig R. Callen

By Cynthia Lee Starnes and Charles J. Ten Brink


The faculty, staff, and students of MSU Law mourn the loss of Professor Craig Callen. His sudden death has left a great void—in our halls, in our conversation, and in our hearts.

The bare facts of Craig’s life are easily told. He earned a B.A. with honors and high distinction in 1971 from the University of Iowa, and a J.D. in 1974 from Harvard Law School. He practiced law with firms in Chicago and Milwaukee before taking the advice of his law school professor, Archibald Cox, to consider teaching. He began his academic career in 1978 at the University of Miami School of Law. He also taught at Oklahoma City University School of Law and Mississippi College School of Law, where he held the J. Will Young Professorship. He was a visiting professor at the University of Colorado, the University of Tennessee, and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He came to Michigan State as a visitor in 2002, and never left, permanently joining the faculty the following year. He was appointed the John D. O’Hair Professor of Evidence and Procedure in 2009. He wrote 19 journal articles, edited countless numbers more, and was working at the time of his death on a new edition of Wigmore’s treatise on the law of evidence, one of a handful of scholars deemed worthy to assume that mantle. He was founding editor of the electronic journal, International Commentary on Evidence (ICE); creator of an early web page for Evidence scholars; and a member of the Board of Editors of CALI, The Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction.

Craig was justifiably proud of these achievements, but they are a collection of degrees, professorships, and awards that cannot begin to take the measure of a man who led a profoundly intellectual life in which that intellectuality was a foundation for so much more. There are so many things to say about Craig—that he loved Beethoven and Sherlock Holmes; that he had a prodigious memory for sports trivia; that he knew a baseball or football or boxing metaphor for almost all of the vicissitudes of academic life; that he had a wry sense of humor and the classic intellectual’s weakness for elaborate puns. His personal library of several hundred volumes is a testament to his wide-ranging interests and the breadth of his curiosity. He had books about cognition. Books about physics. Books about military history. Books about psychology (clinical, theoretical, and evolutionary). Books about sports. Even a book about the psychology of sports. (The Psychology of Baseball?) Murder mysteries from Sayers to Francis. Modern fiction from Lessing to Pynchon to Eco. Biographies. Poetry. Philosophy from Aristotle to Popper. And of course law: evidence, procedure, jurisprudence. He read everything.

Craig’s intellect was keen, his curiosity ceaseless, his knowledge broad and deep, his vocabulary precise, his work ethic surpassed by none. But to us he was more. He was generous, as someone with much to share can be. He was a mentor to faculty, both new and old, a rare colleague willing to take time away from his own projects to read another’s work in progress. And he would pull no punches in his critique, peppering drafts with comments that would have been ruthless from someone less eager to help. He was the master of titles— punchy ones that convey much and waste not a word. Craig abhorred fuzzy thinking, and he never gave up trying to show others the virtues of precise thinking. It was, at bottom, a profound faith in our ability. Craig was never arrogant—he was always sure that if he could only find the right way to communicate, you too could share in the joy he took from his intellectual odyssey, and he took responsibility for that.

Craig truly loved teaching. It’s difficult to say that without sounding trite—aren't all professors supposed to love teaching? But with Craig it was an enduring love, needing constant attention to detail in order to find new ways to share the joy. He enlivened his Socratic dialogue with references to the latest pop-cultural phenomena. His elaborate puns were liberally sprinkled throughout his exams. He was always available to his students, here every day, six days a week, and became a part of the fabric of life at the law school.

Craig’s students adored him, understanding that they were studying at the heels of a great intellect and evidence master, to be sure, but also aware that they were the beneficiaries of a truly caring teacher. He charged his students to “think independently and with precision,” and devoted himself to their achieving that goal. Craig was legendary for his library roaming, searching for students in need of a boost, an explanation, or merely an acknowledgment. This was his routine every evening, and while students were at first suspicious of his motives, they soon understood that his intentions were the best—he cared. The hundreds of students whose lives he touched and whose minds he challenged are his abiding monument.

Craig was a principled man, standing strong for colleagues, friends, and students, no matter the personal cost to himself. He was dogged in his persistence, lobbying others long past the point of resistance, and one could not argue with his guiding principle: the best interests of students. He was a brave man, assuming his illness with characteristic fortitude, and continuing to do what he loved, teaching his last class a little over a week before his death.

Craig was an intellectual of working-class heritage who appreciated the appeal of Lady Gaga, a demanding yet sweet and gentle scholar in a frumpy hat and a many-zippered fishing vest roaming the library in search of his students and the halls in search of colleagues with time for lunch. He was here all the time, a living, breathing part of the architecture, a man we thought would be with us always, admonishing, encouraging, enlightening. He will not be forgotten.

Amicus magazine: In Memoriam (Spring 2012, pp. 26-27) PDF »


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