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Law academic plan envisions building, more students

By Julia Ann Easley on June 16, 2000 in University

Ambitious plans to enhance faculty resources, educate more students and build new facilities are setting the course for the School of Law through 2005-06.

The school’s latest five-year academic plan outlines its strategy for becoming the best small public law school in the country and one of the United States’ elite law schools.

Faculty resources are taking top priority.

"The quality and size of the faculty are the single biggest factor in the strength and reputation of any law school," says Dean Rex Perschbacher.

In the U.S. News & World Report’s graduate school rankings for 2001, the law school is 41st among 174 accredited law schools and among the top public law schools. It ranks 20th in the specialty of environmental law.

With 500 students, UC Davis is considered a relatively small law school, offering students a supportive atmosphere and close contact with faculty members. Without undermining those qualities, the school plans to add at most 100 students to enable it to broaden course offerings to address established and emerging areas of law. It would remain the smallest public law school in California.

The law school will start classes in late August with 34 faculty members and plans to add three more by 2005-06. If the proposal to increase the size of the student body were approved, six additional faculty positions would be needed to maintain the current student-faculty ratio of 15.2 to 1.

In hiring, the law school will continue to seek out scholars who will add to the breadth of its curriculum and contribute to its national visibility.

"The most likely candidates would seem to be scholars with interdisciplinary research agendas, such as combining law and economics, philosophy, political science, biological and natural sciences, and other disciplines," the plan says. "The law school also must ensure that faculty are dedicated to innovative legal scholarship likely to attract national attention."

"Modern legal scholarship steps outside the boundaries of law and includes empirical studies and links with other disciplines," Perschbacher says.

The dean says the law school may next seek to hire faculty members with expertise in biotechnology or health law, law and economics, and environmental law.

Sharing appointments, he says, may allow positions to be economically allocated and further collaborations with other campus units. "The School of Law is committed to actively building connections with the campus," says Perschbacher.

The school is exploring the establishment of a professional ethics center with the School of Medicine and a joint law and economics appointment with the Division of Social Sciences and the Graduate School of Management. Kevin Johnson, professor and associate dean for academic affairs for the law school, has accepted a joint appointment in the Chicana/o studies program, and other faculty members have taught courses in women and gender studies, political science and other fields.

The school aims to encourage cutting-edge scholarship by developing a leave program to free faculty for one semester to pursue substantial scholarly projects, and by increasing funds for summer research stipends, travel and research assistants.

Raising funds to endow two chairs every three years and to support faculty members in other ways will be among the goals of increased efforts in development. Jorja Hoehn, hired by the law school as director of alumni relations in October, was recently named director of development.

Perschbacher says the school plans to launch a major capital campaign within three years and to begin construction on an expansion of King Hall or a new building within five years. A 1998 survey of the 100 U.S. law schools with 300 to 600 students found UC Davis ranked 91st in total square footage. The draft report of a recent space study recommends doubling the size of the law school to about 130,000 net square feet.

The academic plan also addresses these high-priority topics:

• The school plans to increase the quality and professionalism of its staff and hire additional employees in the dean’s office, development and marketing, admissions and outreach, computer support and career services.

• A proposed master of laws in international commercial law is awaiting approval at the system level. The self-supporting program is designed for foreign-trained lawyers to take over three summers.

• The school plans to continue building its ties with the legal academic community by inviting more guest speakers to King Hall, holding conferences and providing more funds to support faculty travel to conferences.

• In its efforts to attract a more diverse student body, the school has added an outreach coordinator in its admissions office.

• A new adviser in career services will assist in the placement of students and graduates in public-service and public-interest positions.