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Under Perschbacher, law gained in diversity, academics

By Clifton B. Parker on May 9, 2008 in University

Rex R. Perschbacher, dean of the UC Davis School of Law during a decade that witnessed a 30-percent growth in the school's full-time faculty and the launch of a $30-million King Hall renovation and expansion project, will step down from his post on June 30. Following a year's sabbatical, Perschbacher plans to return to the school as a professor.

"Rex has left an indelible mark on the law school, contributing richly to its special character and its many accomplishments," Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said. "His values and principles, eloquently articulated, always seem to me to be unwavering. You know where he stands. And you know, too, that he's a fine, fine person."

As dean, Perschbacher hired 28 new faculty members who have advanced the school's scholarship and diversity, expanded the school's clinical programs, established a master's degree program in international commercial law and developed an outreach program for underserved college students. The school added five endowed chairs and professorships during his tenure, bringing the total number of seats to six, and saw a more than tenfold increase in private giving.

To help ensure that a law degree from a California public law school remains within the financial reach of all qualified California students, Perschbacher expanded the school's loan forgiveness program for students who take jobs in the public interest and increased financial aid and scholarships. He also lobbied for Congressman George Miller's ('72) College Cost Reduction and Access Act and was the only University of California law dean to speak out before the regents against increases in professional school fees.

"Over the last decade, Dean Rex Perschbacher has led nothing less than an intellectual renaissance at the UC Davis School of Law," said Kevin R. Johnson, associate dean of the law school and the Mabie-Apallas Professor of Public Interest Law.

Perschbacher was instrumental in pushing through the school's first major building improvement since 1968, leading a campaign for $8 million in private support and lobbying at the state Capitol for needed public funding. The renovated King Hall is scheduled to open its doors next fall.

Faculty and students credit him with fostering a familial atmosphere that celebrates cultural diversity and academic excellence.

"Rex has helped set a tone which other schools should envy," said former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso. Perschbacher recruited Reynoso as the inaugural holder of the Boochever and Bird Chair for the Study and Teaching of Freedom and Equality.

Social justice, public service

Said law professor Madhavi Sunder, another of Perschbacher's recruits: "He has shown how a great public law school can infuse its entire study of law, from environmental law to intellectual property, immigration and corporate law, with concerns for social justice and public service."

For his part, Perschbacher says the school "faces real challenges ahead. But we're up to it. We're stronger than ever."

He said one of the biggest challenges will be to keep the law accessible to those who want to go into public service. At a Jan. 17 meeting of the UC Board of Regents in San Francisco, Perschbacher cited such alumni-turned-public-leaders as Art Torres, Elihu Harris and Angela Oh.

"These noted public leaders attended UC Davis School of Law when it was truly a public law school, available to all California residents who showed the ability to qualify to attend law school," he argued. "This promise of a first-rate legal education based on ability, provided by the people of the state of California with an implicit agreement that our graduates recognized they owed something in return to the people of the state of California, was embodied in the low-fee policy that truly welcomed applicants with and without the means to attend private law schools."

Drastic fee increases, he warned the regents, will be "a tragic loss and waste of a great investment by the people of California."

A graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Law, Perschbacher served as law clerk to U.S. District Judge Alfonso J. Zirpoli before entering private practice in San Francisco. He has taught at UC Berkeley, the University of Texas, Santa Clara University and the University of San Diego law schools.

He joined the UC Davis faculty in 1981 as an acting professor and director of clinical education. He became professor of law in 1986, associate dean in 1993 and dean in 1998.

Media contact(s)

Clifton B. Parker, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,