In his decades as a professor, DiMento has written 11 books and taught courses on a wide variety of subjects, including urban and regional planning, domestic and international environmental law, administrative law and regulation, business and government, and conflict resolution. In 2008, he became a founding faculty member at the UC Irvine School of Law, where he taught the inaugural class in an innovative course on methods of legal analysis in international law.
Where do you get your passion for urban planning and environmental law?
I was very fortunate because when I was a graduate and law student at Michigan, it was the very beginning of environmental law. Joe Sax, who was a brilliant professor there, made it exciting for me to think and learn about this issue. He began to explore and teach about citizens using the law to influence environmental goals as no one had ever done.
Why did you pursue both a Ph.D. in urban and regional planning and a law degree?
I chose to get the Ph.D. and J.D. because, after enrolling in the Ph.D. program at Michigan for reasons of commitment to research and writing and social planning, my long-term love for the law (nurtured at Harvard under people like the legendary Paul Freund) returned and I again felt drawn to the law as a vehicle for the kinds of things I want to do in life.
How do you feel about the differences between teaching and research and writing, and which do you prefer?
I must confess that I do still get nervous when I teach, so I prepare a lot for every class. In my classes, I want the students to come because they’re interested, not because it’s 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday and that’s the best time slot for a class. So I always start my class with a story or current event that’s relevant to the lecture; just something to get the students talking and engaged in the class. I am probably happiest, though, when I’m doing archival research. There’s nothing more exciting to me than digging through the Harvard Law or Onondaga Historical Association archives and finding nuggets of information that no one else knows about — that’s really fascinating.
You recently published a research paper on the impact of urban highways on American cities that was listed among the top 10 environmental papers in the prestigious Social Science Research Network. What is it about and what brought you to write it?
The paper is called "Stent (or Dagger?) in the Heart of Town: Urban Freeways in Syracuse, 1944-1967," and it’s about the enormous effect on city growth and development in American cities when urban freeways are built through them. This specific paper is a case study using my hometown of Syracuse. My passion and expertise is split into two worlds: urban planning and environmental and international law. I do this type of research and publish books and articles because I find it fascinating. I write like there’s no tomorrow, and also find the history of the law in situations such as this one very interesting.
You have been part of the UC Irvine faculty nearly 40 years. What is different for you at the law school?
Well, what strikes me most about the law school is the willingness of people involved in it to think about a curriculum without many restrictions. That’s going to be the big change as we really get to make the program innovative. I’m also looking forward to working with people who aren’t familiar with the UC system, which will surely be a challenge, as the UC system is a different animal of its own.
Will you still be working with the undergraduates next year?
Over the years. I will be teaching classes both at the law school and in the undergraduate departments of Social Ecology.
What are some of your goals for the law school in the first few years?
My goal for my international legal reasoning course is to create a course that will excite students about the potential ... that exists for international law. Some people don't think that there even is an international law (because of the many conflicts among the laws of nations, because it doesn’t look like the law of certain countries, and for other reasons), but I believe that there is one and it has great potential. I want to open up the students’ minds to thinking about the possibilities that exist ... that they may not have considered.