Mary Kay Kane, 1946-2021

Dear UC Hastings Community,

Mary Kay Kane being presented with a medal of honor from the Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland.
Mary Kay Kane is presented with a medal of honor from the Kozminski University in Warsaw, Poland.

It is with deep and profound sadness that I write to tell you that Emerita Chancellor & Dean and Distinguished Professor Mary Kay Kane died today due to complications from cancer. She was a phenomenal teacher, nationally and internationally renowned scholar, hugely impactful Chancellor & Dean of UC Hastings, and a beloved friend and colleague. She will be missed more than words could possibly express.

I had the good fortune to serve under Mary Kay during the formative years of my career. Indeed, she welcomed me to campus on my first day of work, in July 1987, where she had just begun serving as Acting Academic Dean. I remember well a ten-page memo she handed me on that first day, which laid out the fundamentals of achieving success in the legal academy. As I would learn as I got to know her, it was full of sage practical advice, unadorned with romance or pretense. She could simultaneously be no-nonsense, while inspiring the dreams of fledgling faculty members.

She very much became my mentor as I developed both my teaching and my scholarship. Indeed, as both Academic Dean and Chancellor and Dean, Mary Kay read and provided feedback on every one of my articles. I certainly was not the only faculty member to benefit from her keen eye,  sharp intellect, and direct, yet gentle, critiques. She did the same for an entire generation of junior UC Hastings scholars. Although few of us wrote in her specific areas of expertise, she invariably brought new insights and constructive suggestions to our work. She might have been the smartest person I have ever known. So many of us owe her so much for her generosity and guidance in our careers.

Mary Kay was born and raised in Detroit. She attended the University of Michigan where she received a B.A. degree in English and a J.D. in 1971. At Michigan Law, she was just one of nineteen women in a class of 425. After graduation, Mary Kay became co-director, with her mentor Arthur Miller, of a National Science Foundation project on privacy and social science research data. She spent the first year working on that project at the University of Michigan and then two years at Harvard Law School.

She began teaching in 1974 at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School. She joined the UC Hastings faculty in 1977, where she was the first ladder-ranked woman faculty member. She went on to serve as Associate Academic Dean from 1980-82, Acting Academic Dean during the 1987-88 academic year, and Academic Dean from 1990-93. In 1993, she was named Chancellor and Dean, a position she held until 2006. She was the first woman dean at UC Hastings. As one of the trail-blazing women in legal education, Mary Kay was honored in 2017 by being interviewed for the “Women in Legal Education Project,” sponsored by the American Association of Law Schools, which is available here, and very much worth watching.

During Mary Kay’s deanship, she was singularly responsible for bringing UC Hastings into the modern age. She oversaw the transition of the “65-Club” from its historical form and raised substantial funds to endow distinguished professorships at the school. As the only stand-alone public law school, Mary Kay worked with the Legislature to expand clinical opportunities at the school and to deepen our relationship with the University of California system. During her 13 years as dean, she oversaw the hiring of numerous junior faculty and put in place programs to ensure their development as teachers and scholars. She also oversaw the renovation of our academic building at 198 McAllister in 1999 and a major earthquake retrofit and upgrade of our library and administration building at 200 McAllister, which is named in her honor. (Three prominent alumni contributed a substantial sum to the 200 McAllister renovation and asked the Board of Directors to name the building in her honor, an honor that they surprised her with during her final meeting with them as chancellor & dean.)

Mary Kay’s major area of scholarly interest was civil procedure, in which she continues to be recognized as one of the nation’s—in fact, the world’s—leading scholars. She has written numerous articles and books in that field, including as a co-author of the third and fourth editions of fourteen volumes of the national treatise, Federal Practice and Procedure. In addition, Mary Kay has authored a Nutshell on Civil Procedure, the eighth edition of which was published in 2018, co-authored a Hornbook on Civil Procedure, whose fifth edition was published in 2012, and a Hornbook on the Law of Federal Courts, whose eighth edition was published in 2017.

Mary Kay was elected to the American Law Institute in December 1978 and was elected to the Council in December 1997. She served as Chair of the Governance Committee and was previously an Adviser on the Principles of the Law of Aggregate Litigation project; the Restatement Third, Torts: Apportionment of Liability project; and the Transnational Rules of Civil Procedure.

In 2001, Mary Kay served as the President of the Association of American Law Schools. She also served as a member of the Standing Committee on Practice and Procedure of the United States Judicial Conference from 2000-2006, and as a member of the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar from 2004-2010. Since 2014, she had been serving on the Board of the International Association of Law Schools and as the Chair of the International Advisory Board for Kozminski University Law School in Warsaw, Poland. In 2019, Mary Kay was honored with a distinguished service medal from Kozminski University, an award bestowed every three years.

Mary Kay was a rare combination of outstanding teacher, highly accomplished scholar, meticulous administrator, and inspirational leader. She was generous with her time for colleagues, for students, and for the profession.

Mary Kay dedicated her life to the legal profession and, more so, to the legal academy. In particular, she was dedicated to the success of UC Hastings as an institution and, moreover, to the individual success of every member of the UC Hastings community.

Her passing is a tremendous loss to our community. She was truly the bedrock of what UC Hastings is and laid the foundation for all that we are destined to achieve. Her passing leaves an awful hole in our community and in our lives.

Wishing you and yours all the best,

David Faigman

Update: UC Hastings Law is establishing an endowed chair to honor Emerita Chancellor & Dean Mary Kay Kane. Please make a gift here if you wish to support the Mary Kay Kane Professorship of Law.