Back to School – Harvard Law Today


In July 2020, Dionne Koller Fine LL.M. ’22 appeared before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Presenting herself as a law professor at the University of Baltimore and director of its Center on Sport and Law, she testified unequivocally against the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s efforts to win an antitrust exemption that would preserve its revenue restrictions. of endorsement. for college athletes.

“I support allowing athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness. These are rights that we all enjoy, as American citizens,” says Koller. “I was particularly concerned that the NCAA was pushing a narrative that restoring these rights would hurt women’s sport, and nothing could be further from the truth.” Data shows that female athletes are doing very well as influencers on social media – a trend that not only helps individual athletes, but also promotes their sport. Women’s varsity gymnastics, she notes, has never been more popular.

A year later, Koller arrived at Cambridge to take on a very different role – as a student at Harvard Law School Master of Laws (LL.M.) program. Although she would inform other academics and aspiring law professors that there are many different times to pursue graduate studies, she never expected to do so herself, especially mid-career. But, planning a sabbatical after concluding an appointment as associate dean of academic affairs at Baltimore Law, Koller realized that now was the perfect time for her.

She decided to come to Harvard Law in light of her long and deep involvement in sports law (among others, the late Professor Emeritus Paul C. Weiler LL.M. ’65 co-authored the first casebook in the domain). And she chose to enroll in the LL.M. because it would allow her both to undertake the substantial scientific work required as part of her sabbatical and to gain knowledge that would help her resume her legal education and future senior management positions.

“I think I’m a good teacher, I’m empathetic, but there are ways – especially after feeling again the nervous energy that comes with being called to class or downloading an exam and feeling that the clock is starting to tick – which I will be listening to my students a lot more after this,” she admits. She also took extensive notes on how Harvard Law School engages its students, from their involvement in back-to-school planning at lunches with the dean.

Koller has been teaching law since 1998, when she left practice as a litigator at a Washington, D.C. law firm to teach legal writing at her alma mater, George University Law School. Washington. “I was very happy to have practiced law, but once I had the opportunity to teach a course, I absolutely loved it,” she recalls. After teaching and serving as assistant dean at GWU for several years, she accepted a faculty position at the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law, then joined Baltimore Law School in 2006.

Since the beginning of his academic career, Koller has focused his research on sports law. “It felt like a field to me that was really under-theorized. It was exciting to be a part of growing and building a field, and I think we’re still at that point,” “In the beginning, sports law focused on professional sport, with an emphasis on competition law and labor law. “Of course, it’s a very important job. I saw that there was not as much legal scholarship on Olympic and amateur sports as I thought there should be, given the importance of these two contexts in our culture.

Koller has written and lectured, among other topics, on the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, as a private, nonprofit organization with very public purposes; athlete health and safety; and on Title IX, the Federal Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program that receives federal funding.

At Harvard Law School, Koller focused her attention on young athletes. His 50-page LL.M. article deals with a subject that has not received much treatment in legal research – identifying and analyzing systems allowing people under the age of 18 to participate in sports in the United States. Unlike other countries with government agencies that regulate youth sports, the United States has a largely privatized and unregulated youth sports system that serves as a gateway to higher-level sports programs, even those integrated into public high schools.

“Why do kids train, travel and compete so much? The medical profession has pointed out the harms associated with this system for a very long time, but we don’t do anything about it,” Koller says. “My response is that there are too many stakeholders, ranging from parents to sponsors to high performance sports programs, who benefit from the surplus generated by our current way of approaching youth sport.

She also appreciated the opportunity to take courses on subjects very different from sports law. “As law teachers, we read legal studies and try to follow our fields, but the other happy advantage of being a student again was that I could study what interested me at the moment and see where it leads. . It was an open intellectual journey that continues to enrich and surprise me.

For example, Koller was particularly interested in taking up feminist legal theory with Professor Janet Halley. “Not only is she a fantastic teacher and thinker, but she put so much time and energy into providing feedback on my work, and it was incredibly energizing,” says Koller. She found she was able to draw on this course and others to make connections in her LL.M. paper. She cites Professor Scott Brewer’s seminar on “The Jurisprudence of Excellence” and professor Noah FeldmanSeminar “Power: Ethics, Means, Ends”. “Of course sport, the structure and regulation of sport is about power – power over athletes. It was another exciting way to make connections between different theories and real case examples.

Outside of the classroom, Koller found another “cross-pollination opportunity” in the Child Advocacy Program writing group. “I shared my ideas and eventually submitted my article, and the group gave me phenomenal support,” she notes. “The other students in the LL.M. program and the JD students I’ve met are incredibly accomplished, interesting, and kind. Each time I had the opportunity to speak with them, I learned something new and saw things in a different way.

Although she found her time at Harvard “exciting and rewarding,” Koller is looking forward to returning to the University of Baltimore in the fall. She will also focus on an important public service role – as co-chair, along with former elite athlete Han Xiao, of the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s State Commission. The panel, created by Congress in the wake of the Larry Nassar-USA Gymnastics scandal, was tasked with conducting a 10-point review of the committee’s operations, recent reforms and diversity initiatives in finance. After obtaining the necessary funding and eliminating other administrative obstacles, the commission plans to begin its work in earnest this summer.


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