Last October, the UConn Law community was rocked by the loss of Richard Parker. I want to thank the Yale Journal on Regulation for establishing this series, collecting these remembrances, and inviting me to participate.
In the classroom, Richard was a well-liked and effective teacher; among the faculty, he was a brilliant scholar and a vital member of the community; and to our Semester in DC students, present and past, he was a life-changing mentor and the founder of a program that helped launch many careers. After his passing, accolades and remembrances poured in, highlighting the deep impressions Richard made through his scholarship, fellowship, and energy.
I liked Richard the moment I met him. At the time, I was brand-new to the law school faculty, yet Richard put me at immediate ease with his eagerness to talk climate policy, environmental policy, really…. any policy. He made me feel like we were in the middle of a conversation that had begun months before we met. Aside from our mutual interests and regular faculty interactions, Richard and I became connected through UConn Law’s Center for Energy & Environmental Law, where Richard served as Policy Director, and I am the Executive Director.
Over the years, our running back and forth ranged from national politics, family chit-chat, interesting new research projects for the center, and tactical things, like how to coordinate my Environmental Law and his Administrative Law classes, so Mass v. EPA could be taught the same week to create a unique experience to our many overlapping students.
When talking about issues near to his heart, Richard had an infectious and fun enthusiasm. A topic that held his eager attention became even more interesting thanks to his easy-yet-scholarly conversational style. After a chat session with Richard, I frequently found myself a sudden, zealous convert to ideas like negotiated rulemaking had world-saving virtues or that inflated regulatory cost estimates were an existential threat to democracy. It wasn’t so much that Richard was trying to be overtly persuasive, but more that his own earnestness brought you along.
One time, Richard and I had a rare disagreement. He had a concept for a possible conference for the center, yet I just wasn’t buying it. However, over time, Richard’s good-natured excitement moved me from skeptic to devotee. Even now, I think only Richard Parker could have talked me into supporting a fracking conference in Connecticut, a state without any fracking! (The resulting event was so popular that our largest law school facility had overflow rooms and crammed hallways that day.)
When Richard fell ill, he assigned to his International Environmental Law students the recordings from the prior year’s class as a stop-gap measure. In his absence, I decided to hold abbreviated live discussion sessions for those students, using Richard’s recorded materials as the foundation.
Playing the recordings in my car, I was struck by how Richard moved seamlessly, from student to student, absorbing and integrating their thoughts into his replies. As the audio played on, I could hear first Richard and then the students becoming more and more animated. Of course, the subject was a topic Richard had been teaching for decades – but the energy building through the back and forth made it all seem brand new.
Reflecting back on this and the other reflections, it occurs to me that Richard’s gift, particularly as an educator, was more than just his enthusiasm, but his ability to transfer just a bit of that energy to us.
Richard Parker was a brilliant scholar and teacher, a capacious and creative mind, and someone who truly cared.
He will be missed.
Joseph Allan MacDougald is a Professor in Residence and Executive Director of the Center for Energy & Environmental Law at the University of Connecticut School of Law.