'Blue Jeans Lecture'


U-M Law professor challenges audience’s expectations

By Allison Hight
U-M Law

While delivering the Law School’s winter-term Blue Jeans Lecture, Professor James Krier challenged his audience’s expectations from the beginning. “I didn’t wear jeans today,” he pointed out. “I’m not going to be programmed to do so just because someone says this is a blue jeans lecture.” Krier, who is the Earl Warren DeLano Professor of Law, also expressed his dislike of lectures as a whole. “I like spontaneity, and that’s usually absent from lectures. I think I’m better if everything is extemporaneous.”

Michigan Law’s Blue Jeans Lecture, a semi-annual event sponsored by the Law School Student Senate, provides an “opportunity for professors to give life advice as lawyers and as human beings.” Despite critiquing the event’s terminology, Krier lived up to its purpose by delivering both an unconventional and approachable presentation, complete with several minutes where he lip-synced from a pre-recorded version of himself giving part of the lecture.

The talk, entitled “What’s Happening in the World Right Now is Unreal (Isn’t It?),” explored “the meaning of real and the elusiveness of reality.” As an example, Krier showed the audience two pictures of people having dinner together, one in which the subjects were talking and laughing, and one in which everyone was staring at their phones.

“There is a certain absence of human connection here,” Krier explained. “In the second picture, they aren’t really having dinner together because they aren’t really connected with each other. It seems that people can often behave robotically. The question is how to resist acting this way.”

For Krier, resisting these robotic behaviors takes two forms. First, he suggested avoiding constant use of technology by, for example, not using a phone while walking. “Have you ever been walking down the street when, unexpectedly, you meet someone you know whom you hadn’t expected to see?” he asked the audience. “There’s a figure of speech to describe this. Nowadays, though, when you ‘bump into’ someone, it’s often literal.”

 Krier’s second suggestion was to act in ways that people might not expect. “Part of it is just trying to be a little more weird,” he said.

One audience member asked Krier how to strike a balance between technology and human connection in a time when people in the professional world are expected to always be electronically connected.

“I’m not against technology,” he responded. “I actually spend a lot of time on my computer, but I use the technology to free me from using the technology. The challenge is that we should exploit technology instead of technology exploiting us.”

In keeping with the purpose of Blue Jeans Lectures, Krier ended with a piece of advice for students’ personal and professional lives.

“Bring out all that you have. If you can bring everything you have to what you are, you will be running the world a lot more than the world is running you. You will be making choices rather than people choosing things for you.

“That takes courage, and it takes self-confidence.”