Professors Raskolnikov and Goshen Join the CLS Faculty
Hiring new faculty is a primary goal for Dean David Schizer. Not only are new professors needed to replace retiring faculty members, but also to reduce the student/faculty ratio. "I want to offer students more intense interactions with the faculty," he says.
To that end, meet the two newest Law School professors, who have brought experience and a love for teaching to their classrooms.
Professor Alex Raskolnikov
hen you ask Professor Alex Raskolnikov about any big decision or move in his life, you are likely to get the same initial answer, "Well, there's a story there." And with this engineer, whose career has taken him from the Academy of Sciences Institute of Physical Chemistry in the former Soviet Union to a post teaching taxation in one of the United States' premier law schools, the story is invariably a good one, with all the variety, travel, and surprises of a great Russian tale.
Prof. Raskolnikov received his B.S. and his M.S. in chemical engineering in 1988, having won the highest student scholarship awarded in the USSR and graduating first in his class. Did he have an interest in the law back then?
"Even today I would not want to be a lawyer in Russia, but certainly not back then," he says. "The sciences were research-based and far less political than the humanities. You chose professions in the Soviet Union for very different reasons than you choose them in the United States."
At 23 he believed he clearly saw his future - a teaching job at his alma mater, a second degree, scholarly writing. But there were surprises, the first coming three years later when he visited his father, who had immigrated 13 years earlier and was teaching Russian literature at Michigan State University. For the younger Mr. Raskolnikov, it was just supposed to be a short visit with his wife and son, though he had other dreams.
"I fantasized about working [in America] and then returning to the Soviet Union, able to buy our own apartment. But neither my wife nor I had any intention of immigrating at the time," he adds.
During the visit, a chance meeting led to a job interview with a small manufacturing plant that made ring gears. Soon, he was meeting with an immigration lawyer. While highly overqualified for work in the 400-employee plant, the free time was put to good use. Prof. Raskolnikov mastered English and, at the same time, realized that he had no desire to remain a metallurgical engineer for the rest of his life.
The problem was what to do next. Another advanced degree seemed to hold the answer, but in what subject? Prof. Raskolnikov's father brought home the Michigan State University course catalogue, and his son pored over it for something that would pique his interest. Yet it was not the catalogue, but a car accident that pointed the way toward his next move.
"The policeman told me that the accident was more than 50 percent my fault and wrote me a ticket for $600," he recalls. "It was a huge amount of money to me, so I asked him what I could do [to dispute the fine] and he told me to go to a hearing and explain my side of the story. For the next few weeks I thought of all the questions I might be asked and how I would answer them. And in the midst of that, I stopped and said, ‘This is fun.'
"I went home and told my wife that we wouldn't talk about this for a month, but if I was still this excited at that time, then I was going to apply to law school. A month later I knew what I was going to do - and I won my hearing."
Armed only with law school ratings from U.S. News & World Report, Prof. Raskolnikov began the application process, with the knowledge that, upon graduation, he wanted a job that would compensate his wife, Katia, and son, Dima (8 at the time), for three years of student living. He attended a law school fair in Chicago, with his eye on state schools.
While he stood daydreaming beside an empty Yale Law School booth, an admissions rep appeared and asked if he was planning to apply. Prof. Raskolnikov's swift negative reply - that he couldn't afford to apply where he didn't have a reasonable chance of admittance - prompted a discussion about his life and experiences and ended with the rep saying: "Listen, it's incredibly competitive. But after what you've told me today, if I were you, I'd give it a shot." Months later, he received word that he'd been admitted to Yale's 1L class.
While intellectual property law, with an emphasis on patents, looked like a natural fit for a science-trained law student, Prof. Raskolnikov found it unappealing. After investigating several areas, he found a match in tax law.
After five years in the tax department at the New York office of Davis Polk, he asked several colleagues if they would look at a paper he'd written titled "Contextual Analysis of Tax Ownership." One of those colleagues was a Columbia tax professor, and now Columbia dean, David Schizer, who also started his tax career at Davis Polk. Prof. Schizer saw teaching and scholarship potential in a lawyer who was not actively seeking an academic job at the time. Last year, Prof. Raskolnikov received a formal invitation to join the Columbia faculty. It was too enticing to pass up, he says.
With so much change in so few years, one might expect an occasional bit of nostalgia. Yet Prof. Raskolnikov insists the opposite is true.
"Over and over in my life you can see a parallel," he says. "I wasn't looking to leave Russia, but I've never regretted having done so. I had no idea I would go to law school, but once I made the decision, I never looked back. I liked being in private practice, but once I began teaching I knew it was the right thing for me. I've been lucky—even without planning it, I've always wound up in a great place."
Professor Zohar Goshen
rofessor Zohar Goshen is a man of many talents. After completing mandatory service in the Israeli army, he applied to law school, medical school, and engineering school.
Choices, choices, but how did he choose which profession to enter? "I decided to go to the first school that accepted me," he says with a smile.
Fortunately for the profession of law, the first acceptance letter arrived from the faculty of law at Hebrew University. Prof. Goshen now divides his teaching schedule between that school's Mount Scopus campus in Jerusalem and Columbia's campus in Morningside Heights.
There was little indecision about what kind of law he might want to practice. During his second year at Hebrew University, he took a course on corporation law taught by a professor whose approach to corporate legal theory incorporated law and economics methods and ideas. Suddenly, Prof. Goshen's research interests were kindled. "It was the first time I had been exposed to this fascinating method," he says.
There were other things on Prof. Goshen's mind during law school. Hebrew University sits along one of the many bus routes plagued by suicide bombers. "Living in Israel requires two important virtues," Prof. Goshen says resignedly, "denial and optimism."
On the one hand, he argues, "You must live your life as if nothing bad is going to happen to you. On the other, you have to be optimistic that a truly complex situation will change and that peace is not too far away."
Prof. Goshen's parents knew something of political strife. In 1949, the penniless young couple immigrated to the newly sovereign state of Israel from Yemen, in what became known as "Operation Magic Carpet." Under the aegis of Alaska Airlines' president James Wooten, more than 43,000 Yemini Jews were airlifted using two DC-4 Skyscrapers into Tel Aviv. From 1949-50, the planes were repeatedly shot at, but they managed to traverse the length of the Red Sea without a single loss of life.
Raised in Elyachin, a small village in northwestern Israel, young Zohar and his siblings were encouraged by their mother to dream - and to labor to actualize those dreams.
"She was a visionary," Prof. Goshen says of his mother, who passed away three years ago. "She had the most profound influence on my life."
After receiving his LL.B. from Hebrew University and a clerkship with Chief Justice Meir Shamgar of the Israeli Supreme Court in 1986-87, Prof. Goshen went on to hold Fulbright, Rothschild, and Olin fellowships. Still intrigued by corporate law and economics and how they could be harnessed to understand the business world, he decided to pursue the subjects as a course of study at Yale, where he received his LL.M. and J.S.D. degrees in 1990 and 1991. It was during doctoral study on the New Haven campus that he discovered an enthusiasm for teaching apart from his penchant for legal scholarship.
"Presenting some of my new ideas to my students, answering their questions, and receiving their comments enriched my thoughts and research," he explains.
Similarly, just as teaching had enlivened his career as an academic, Prof. Goshen found that public life enriched his teaching.
In 1995, three years into his teaching post as the Phillip P. Mizock and Estelle Mizock Professor of Law at Hebrew University, Prof. Goshen was named director of the Israeli Securities Authority (the country's equivalent of the Securities and Exchange Commission). After three years, he became director for public interest of Israel's Discount Bank from 1997-2002.
The impact of these posts on his scholarship was invaluable. It was one thing to teach about the role of directors, he says, but quite another to teach from the perspective of one who had actually performed that role.
Prof. Goshen has written on the efficiency of controlling the practice of corporate self-dealing and the impact of insider trading on capital markets. In 2001, in collaboration with University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Gideon Parchomovsky, he wrote "On Insider Trading, Markets, and ‘Negative' Property Rights in Information," published in the Virginia Law Review. In a forthcoming article, the two professors have turned their attention to market analysts and their role in monitoring the ongoing concerns of corporate performance. Prof. Goshen argues in favor of "promoting and facilitating a competitive market for analysts as a means of improving market efficiency, corporate management performance, and, ultimately, fair and honest markets."
Having returned to Hebrew University for the spring semester, Prof. Goshen is reunited with his wife, Ayelet, and his sons, Ken (16) and Nadav (13 ). Recently, he was appointed by the Israeli Securities Authority to serve as chair of an independent committee to create a corporate governance code. Whereas a lively exchange of ideas on corporate law, corporate finance, and antitrust are more difficult to come by in Israel, "Columbia is a dream place," he says. "Moreover, I am overwhelmed by the collegiality, respect, and mutual support among the faculty."