Val Nolan Professor of Law
Michael S. (Mickey) Maurer, a 1967 graduate of the School of Law, established the Val Nolan Chair of Law with his wife, Janie, as a way of honoring Mickey Maurer’s favorite professor, Val Nolan. Maurer’s professional career includes entrepreneurial businesses in publishing, the communication and entertainment industries, and, more recently, banking.
Remembered as a supportive colleague, a curious intellectual, and an inspirational and humorous teacher, Val Nolan Jr. (JD’49) made enormous contributions throughout his fascinating and varied life. The emeritus professor of law and biology passed away on March 27, 2008, at the age of 87.
“You hear about professors leading the ‘life of the mind.’ Val is the only one I know who actually did it,” said the late Pat Baude, Ralph F. Fuchs Professor of Law and Public Service, who served with Nolan on the law faculty for 40 years. “Not just the usual stuff like intelligence, discipline, and scholarly ambition. No, he had the real goods: insatiable curiosity, boundless intellectual energy, a passion for perfection, elegance in language, honest self-criticism, and, above all, respect and support for the work and thoughts of others.”
After graduating from Indiana University in 1941 with an AB in history, Nolan worked as a Deputy U.S. Marshall before joining the Secret Service. He began working in the Washington, D.C., field office, but soon joined the White House detail providing security for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1942, he guarded the president on a nationwide “secret” tour of defense installations, recalling “the trip wasn’t so secret after all, because thousands of people saw him.”
Later that year, Nolan left the Secret Service to join the Navy, where he served in intelligence as a Japanese language expert. He also spoke Latin, Classical Greek, German, and some French. Initially, he was assigned to an amphibious group and interrogated Japanese prisoners. He was then assigned to the railroad section as an interpreter, working to determine how successful the bombing of the Japanese railroads had been.
Nolan followed in his father’s legal footsteps, entering law school in 1946. On his way to graduating first in his class, Nolan served as editor of the Indiana Law Journal and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Order of the Coif, and Phi Delta Phi. He then joined the Indiana Law faculty, teaching Property, Wills, Land Titles, and Conflicts for the next 36 years until his retirement in 1985. During that time, he served as a mentor and model for countless law students.
“Professor Nolan had this masterful way of engaging and stimulating students with his probing questions or comments, even when you were really seeking answers or guidance. It was invariably his way of teaching,” said Robert Kassing, JD’64, a partner at Bose McKinney & Evans. “No other teacher in my life impacted my ability to think critically nearly as much as Professor Nolan, for which I am forever in his debt. He cared deeply about the students and the School, befriended and benefitted so many of us, and will be greatly missed.”
“He was one of just a few people who had a significant impact on my life,” added attorney and entrepreneur Michael (Mickey) S. Maurer, JD’67. “He had a sense of humor. He once asked me a question in class to which I answered ‘yes.’ He replied that he was looking for a shorter answer.”
In 2000, Maurer and his wife, Janie, endowed the Val Nolan Chair in Law, in honor of his favorite professor. Nolan was astonished.
“I have been at the Law School since 1946 and there have been, and still are, a lot of fine teachers here. I feel as if I just happened to be the one who got struck by lightning—but I am glad I was,” he said at the time. “The notion that you meant something like that to someone else is really overwhelming.”
Dean Lauren Robel, who was named the Val Nolan Professor of Law, noted, “I have been so honored and humbled to have my name associated with his. He was a giant, but a gentle one. His integrity and intellectuality set the standard for many of us at the School, both as students and faculty.” Robel currently serves as interim provost of the IU Bloomington campus.
In addition to his legal expertise, Nolan also became a world-renowned ornithologist. In 1957, he was appointed a research scholar in the biology department and later began teaching a course for a faculty member on sabbatical. In the late 1960s, while already a tenured professor in the Law School, he was given a joint appointment with biology.
“He set an extremely high standard for both writing and thinking—one that I have never been able to achieve, but one from which I can measure my shortcomings,” said Jeffrey Stake, Robert A. Lucas Professor of Law. “But his greatest impact on me was at the conceptual level. Val opened my mind to the fascinating possibility that evolution has shaped human behavior in ways that are important to the law.”
Nolan served as acting dean of the Law School in 1976 and again in 1980, when he helped persuade the Indiana Legislature to expand the Law Building.
His pervasive talents as a Secret Service agent, intelligence officer, legal scholar, and ornithologist created a sense of awe among his admirers. “He was quite dashing, a trait rarely linked to law faculty,” said former Indiana Law Professor Richard Lazarus, now on faculty at Georgetown Law School. “With his strikingly handsome good looks, it was not hard to imagine him working in the White House as a Secret Service agent protecting President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
- Lauren Robel, IU Executive Vice President and IU Bloomington Provost; Val Nolan Professor of Law