“I’m a teaching junkie,” says Berring, 67, who earned a JD from Boalt in 1974 and then returned in 1982 to teach for 35 years. “I love first-year students. They come in with such drive and energy.”
But time flies like an arrow, and Berring has decided that retirement beckons.
“I’d like to go out having done a good job and not be one of those people where you have to tell them, ‘It’s time.’”
Berring is wrapping up a distinguished career as a beloved professor, library director, interim dean, China scholar, and alter ego “Uncle Zeb.”
On a recent weekday, while getting ready to grade his last batch of finals in his expansive corner office, he regaled visitors with stories about the law school. Faculty strife, student protests about diversity, talent shows, the post-Proposition 209 era, graduation hijinks.
“There was a very bad stretch for a while. Student speakers would lecture the faculty at graduations, and faculty just stopped going,” Berring recalled.
Interim dean from January 2003 to June 2004, Berring said the arrival of Dean Chris Edley heralded a new era. “He was an outsider, and an incredible breath of fresh air….The school has totally changed. Now the students are happy warriors.”
Having taught 7,000 to 8,000 students (including legal-studies students) is a remarkable legacy in itself. But to some, Berring may best be remembered as Uncle Zeb, the anonymous Dear Abby-esque sage who doled out advice (some serious, but often not) to law students in a large book kept at the library’s reference desk. While Uncle Zeb himself moves into retirement, Cafe Zeb lives on, named after what Berring calls his “ectoplasmic entity.”
As the semester wound down, Berring’s students bought him a portable record player (he’s a huge music fan) and two albums: The Best of the Mills Brothers and The Best of the Ink Spots.
“Bob’s contributions to our community are enormous,” Interim Dean Melissa Murray said in announcing his retirement, “and I doubt that anyone, however well-intentioned, could do justice to his record of service and colleagueship.”
Visit the law library’s tribute to Bob here.