Food and Fun with Prof. Ferzan

Allie Thornton '17
Staff Columnist

 Grace O’Donnell dressed as Prof. Ferzan for Halloween. Can you tell them apart? Courtesy of Prof. Ferzan

Grace O’Donnell dressed as Prof. Ferzan for Halloween. Can you tell them apart? Courtesy of Prof. Ferzan

Professor Ferzan sat, beaming at me with her bright eyes, in a vibrant purple blazer, with a white button down artfully folded over the cuffs at her wrist. I instantly wanted to know everything about her, but feel overcome by the imposter syndrome. Who am I to ask her invasive questions? Who am I to attempt to match her intelligence? 

    Professor Ferzan smiles as she vividly describes the course of her career. Every milestone seems deliberate, but at the same time each feels like a product of chance. Perhaps this impression comes from Professor Ferzan’s exuberance, which makes the life experiences of this academic seem less like a trajectory, and more like a lively story in which you are rooting for the narrator. No matter, it is incredibly clear that Professor Ferzan has earned all she has accomplished. 

    Professor Ferzan talked about her time at Penn for law school. One story that she recounted will be familiar to many of her 1Ls, regarding a cold call. Her professor called on “Miss Kessler,” [Ferzan’s maiden name] and looked up at Professor Ferzan. She looked up, surprised to be called on, and pointed across the room at her friend (with the same last name), asking “Me Miss Kessler, or her Miss Kessler?” Needless to say, the professor was neither amused nor distracted, and she still had to answer the question. While at Penn, Ferzan studied torts with Professor Heidi Hurd; several years later, Professor Ferzan is good friends with Professor Hurd, despite the fact that Professor Ferzan believes that the tort system could be entirely absorbed into criminal law. 

One example of the earned-yet-seemingly happenstance incidents comes from the story of her choosing a clerkship. Like most would-be clerks, Professor Ferzan applied to most judges in a geographic region, around Philadelphia, and then went to interviews as opportunities were presented. Not shy to admit to the superficiality of wanting to enjoy her workplace, she was charmed that the judge had a pink couch in his office and a painting by Claude Monet on the wall. She thought it was homey. Professor Ferzan would later discover that the judge was color-blind, and his secretary had chosen the couch. Nonetheless, that judge would later officiate her marriage. 

Professor Ferzan also spoke about her career at the DOJ as a prosecutor in the Public Integrity division. Following the trend of fortunate moments, Professor Ferzan applied to the DOJ because that’s what all of the other clerks did. After an afternoon reviewing criminal law with a fellow clerk, she went to the interview, where she was (fortunately) not asked any questions about the Fourth or Fifth Amendments. Professor Ferzan assured me and fellow students interested in working with the DOJ that they should not be deterred by a change in administration.

    Professor Ferzan spoke quickly, which contributes to an impression that she is genuine. When I asked Professor Ferzan what crime she would commit if she were guaranteed to get away with it, she logically responded, “murder,” without hesitation or embarrassment. I wonder how this criminal law professor who enjoys exploring deontological theories can justify such a deadly inclination. Correctly, she pointed out that if she’s going to get a “get out of jail free card” she wants it to have the most value as possible. She is self-assured and straightforward. 

    Professor Ferzan has a special connection to the Virginia Law Weekly. She is ranked as the most-quoted professor in recent history, and is also one of two faculty members who actually read the paper. In an attempt to treat Professor Ferzan like one of us kids, I asked her the questions the Law Weekly often asks students for its “Hot Bench” feature. She resolutely informed us that she is a cat person. She wondered why have a dog when you can have a pet that you can love on your own terms? Why have a dog when you can have a pet that you can throw off your lap when you’re trying to read your book? 

    Professor Ferzan also participated in two truths and a lie, which turned out to be one truth, one half-truth, and one lie. The truth is that she once hitchhiked. Professor Ferzan travelled to Death Valley, California years ago for a conference. When a group of intellectuals invited her on a light hike through Death Valley, she agreed. Upon realization that the hike would be more like a trek through the desert, she politely decided to wait by the car for the group to return. As time passed, and more and more people pulled over by the trailhead to take pictures, she suddenly felt quite vulnerable in this remote area. A minivan pulled up and a three-generation family hopped out. The family began taking photos. Knowing full well that cell phone service was non-existent, she asked to use their phone. The family took the hint that Professor Ferzan was looking for a way out and drove her the mile back to her hotel. She clung to the car door the entire way, just in case, despite the family’s assurances that they would not harm her.

The half-truth is that Professor Ferzan has hang glided. In reality, she once held onto a hang-glider as an instructor failed to guide her off of the ground. The lie is that Professor Ferzan has ever done illegal drugs. Professor Ferzan classifies herself as a rule worshipper. This trait came in handily when she was going through the background checks at the DOJ. One friend remarked, “not only has she never done drugs, she is rude and judgmental to everyone who has.” 

    Professor Ferzan is quick to reveal a relatable self-consciousness. Raised in Miami, Florida, Professor Ferzan’s Sunshine State roots show through by her love for the beach. However, Professor Ferzan is aware of the sideway glances she must get when reading books such as Entertaining Satan at the beach; she has wisely begun a system of removing the book covers before venturing into public. For the record, Entertaining Satan is about the Salem witch trials; Professor Ferzan does not spend her free time summoning the devil. 

    We at the Law Weekly thank Professor Ferzan for her wit in the classroom, her good humor about being quoted so often in the paper, and her willingness to be the subject of this article. For those students reading this article who are in her Evidence class this semester, please remember to write down her quotes and send them to editor@lawweekly.org.

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ast6hj@virginia.edu