When the UC Hastings Board of Directors interviewed me last December for the interim position, the one issue they stressed above all others was that they did not want a “caretaker” dean, someone who would simply stay the course and keep the institution’s collective head above water. There were too many urgent challenges and too many potential opportunities to put the College on hold for 12 to 18 months. There was deep despair regarding our flagging bar passage results, continuing discouragement over the decline in our national rankings, and great uncertainty about the future prospects for the school. But there was also an abiding optimism regarding the school’s prospects. UC Hastings continues to have an extraordinarily talented and diverse student body, staff who are dedicated to our students and committed to excellence, and a faculty of nationally and internationally renowned scholars. And there are few, if any, schools in the country with as big and as successful an alumni base as UC Hastings. There was no time to waste.
Over the last six months, we have moved quickly to take full stock of the challenges we face, including in-depth discussions with faculty, staff and students. Equally important, we have gathered as much data as possible, to ensure that we have a clear and factually correct picture before us. At the same time, we are working daily to optimize the many exciting opportunities before us.
Despair, discouragement, uncertainty – sobering words, I know, but they are barely enough to adequately describe the institution-wide chagrin over our recent bar passage rates. This is a sentiment widely shared by the UC Hastings community and we are working diligently to correct it, not just with lip service and band-aid fixes, but by focusing on every aspect of our curriculum and how it might be improved to better serve today’s Hastings students. To that end, we held a faculty retreat in April at which bar passage was the single focus of our day-long deliberations. Although the faculty is not all of one mind on the direction forward, the one common refrain heard at the retreat was our commitment to be a great law school.
Since being given the honor and privilege to serve in the interim dean position, I have put a lot of thought into answering the question of what makes a “great” law school? There are, of course, as many answers to the question as people to whom it might be posed. Still, after personally considering the question and discussing it with countless members of the Hastings family, several basic characteristics are clear.
Great law schools do many things well, ranging from nurturing a shared intellectual community to serving the public through legal clinics. But no law school is great if it does not prepare its students for the practice of law. At bottom, then, we must ensure that we prepare our students for academic and professional success. This is a top priority and, accordingly, this spring I appointed Professor Morris Ratner as our new Associate Dean for Academic and Professional Success. Under Professor Ratner’s leadership, I have placed several of our most important programs, including academic support, LEOP, bar passage, legal writing & research, and moot court. His charge, with my full support and the resources to succeed, is to create a top-notch, integrated program that ensures that every UC Hastings student is provided the analytical, writing, and professional skills to excel, both on the bar exam and beyond.
Great law schools are not only committed to academic and professional excellence, but also provide a safe, secure and aesthetically pleasing learning environment. We are proud to be in the heart of San Francisco, one of the most vibrant and beautiful cities on the planet. We are, however, an urban campus and will always remain so. The urban environment, particularly in our neighborhood, presents safety and security challenges. We are meeting them head-on. On June 17th, the Board of Directors voted to approve contract negotiations with the UCSF police department. When completed, the UCSF police department will bring to our campus greater resources than we could manage on our own. Moreover, and importantly, we are working with our current public safety officers, who are all deeply valued members of our community, to ensure that they either find positions with the UCSF police department or secure other professional opportunities.
Great law schools contribute positively to the environment and communities surrounding them. We are moving forward to help transform the neighborhood itself with our plans to develop an academic village in the Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhood. Our new academic building at 333 Golden Gate will be a spectacular addition and constitutes the cornerstone of our new campus. This week, Governor Jerry Brown signed his 2016-2017 budget, which included an additional $18.75 million for the building, making the total from the State around $55.5 million. We are extraordinarily grateful to the Governor and the California State Legislature for their generous support of UC Hastings. Of course, as many of you know, the development team has been working tirelessly to raise money to support this project. It is important to keep in mind that State funds only support the building itself. We must provide privately-raised dollars to construct the connecting structures, including the beautiful and functional Law Quad that will be situated between the buildings and the double-decker Sky-bridge that will connect the sixth floor and rooftop of Kane Hall (200 McAllister) to the top floor and rooftop of 333 Golden Gate.
Lastly, great law schools are recognized as such by the larger legal community, generally reflected in national rankings. The decline in our national rankings has been a source of deep personal and professional concern to me over the last two decades. In many respects, UC Hastings is a better law school than it was in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, years when it was a consensus top 20 school. I have every intention of having us be so recognized again. The biggest obstacle in the way of attaining this goal, quite frankly, is attracting and retaining the best students. In these competitive times, this translates into scholarships. A large percentage of US News’ rankings formula comes from the LSATs and GPAs of our incoming classes. We must do more to attract the best students to our campus.
However, this is a tall order. Our current tuition is about $46,000 and the cost of living in San Francisco nearly matches that amount. Competition for top students is fierce, and our peer schools of UC Davis, USC and UCLA have been very effective in offering generous scholarships to the best prospective students. Indeed, I believe that if we could afford to offer scholarships that brought our tuition near what it was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, we would be a top 25 school virtually overnight. Moreover, such scholarships would allow us to attract and support students of widely diverse backgrounds, including students who have overcome disadvantage and join our talented and accomplished LEOP cohort.
To accomplish such a feat, we would need to build an endowment of approximately $200 million dedicated to scholarships. Is this seriously possible? I think that it is. In fact, most of the top 20 schools, including public schools such as Berkeley, Michigan and Virginia, have endowments that far exceed this amount. Our alumni base is at least as large as any of these schools, and our graduates are at least as successful. And I believe they are no less generous.
To be sure, I have no illusions regarding the challenges associated with building the sort of endowment that would put us among the elite law schools in the nation. But it can be done. The bottom line is that we as a community must decide what sort of law school we are to be. Mediocrity is not an option. We must strive toward greatness.
Wishing you a wonderful summer,
- David Faigman