Dean’s Message: Winter 2010

Originally published inĀ UF Law magazine Winter 2010

Three Questions with Dean Jerry

Q: The University of Florida is often referred to in terms of its achievements in athletics and research. How does the Levin College of Law contribute to UF’s success?

No one enjoys cheering for the Gators more than I do, and we all benefit from the publicity and attention athletics bring to the University of Florida. We are also proud of UF’s exceptional success in research and discovery, and we recognize the importance of this work, not only to UF in terms of attracting public and private funding, but to all of us in areas ranging from disease-prevention to space exploration.

The role our law school plays is not as obvious, but just as important. Every great university in history that has rightfully claimed the status of a comprehensive institution of higher learning has also had a great law school, and people still drive institutional success. Like all excellent law schools, we educate leaders. We train students to think analytically, to work collaboratively in teams and within systems, and to solve problems swiftly and effectively. To the extent possible, we teach what it means to exercise good judgment, recognizing that this is one of the most difficult skills to teach in any setting. For example, it is relatively easy to teach somehow how to file a complaint; it is much harder to teach whether to file a complaint. This skill is part and parcel of the development of what is sometimes called “emotional intelligence.” The skills developed from this kind of training are what make it possible for our graduates to move into leadership positions — in the workplace, in the profession, in their communities, and in our state and nation.

The many great successes of UF Law graduates in both legal and non-legal careers was recently affirmed by the results of a ranking in Super Lawyers magazine, which ranked law schools based on the number of their graduates who had achieved the “Super Lawyer” designation. Although this ranking, like all others, is imperfect, it is the first to attempt to evaluate law schools based on output, rather than inputs (such as self-reported financial and placement data), many of which are subject to manipulation and are unverifiable. Our alumni were pleased that UF Law ranked 8th in the nation in this survey, 4th among the nation’s public law schools, and 1st among the Florida law schools. The most substantial critique of the ranking was that it favored large law schools over smaller ones. It is debatable whether this critique is valid, but, assuming for the sake of argument that it is, a Chicago law professor’s recalculation of the survey results by controlling for school size resulted in UF Law being ranked 15th in the nation, which is a very lofty ranking as well. The key point, however, is when UF law graduates become great lawyers and leaders, they give back to their communities, to civic and charitable organizations in their communities, and to countless other institutions that build our quality of life — including UF.

The importance of the connections and support UF Law graduates have provided to the University of Florida over our college’s 100 years of existence cannot be overstated, and they continue to be vital as we strive to educate the public on the importance of adequately funding higher education.

An easy and exciting new way for UF alums to get involved is through the Gators for Higher Education program, which helps UF alumni and supporters communicate the university’s goals to elected officials. It is notable that while UF Law alums account for only about 5 percent of UF’s alumni population, they represent 22 percent of those participating in this important initiative.

UF Law alumni, faculty and administrators volunteer in many other ways to help the university, from working behind the scenes on tuition devolution and funding strategies, to our current sponsorship of a universitywide strategic communications planning effort answering to the UF Board of Trustees External Relations Committee.

Q: As a land grant institution, UF has a tri-fold mission of teaching, research and service. How do UF Law faculty serve the people of Florida?

Many programs, such as those in our clinics, Center for Governmental Responsibility, Family Law Program or Environmental and Land Use Law Program, actively address legal issues in priority areas or on behalf of the underserved. Faculty members volunteer in a number of other ways as well. One of the most visible ways our faculty volunteer their time — but one most people don’t consider — is to help educate the public and illuminate key legal aspects of current news stories by providing expert commentary. Since last January, UF Law faculty have been quoted in newspapers at least 379 times, including in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Newsday, St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald, as well as in Time Magazine, Bloomberg News, American Bar Journal, Computerworld, Chronicle of Higher Education, The Florida Bar Journal, Florida Trend and AOL Latino. Faculty also spoke or appeared at least 133 times on broadcast media, including state and national affiliates for ABC, NBC, CBS, and NPR. And this doesn’t even begin to look at the impact of faculty scholarship on law reform in a wide variety of areas.

Q: Are law students involved with public service through the college?

Yes. We view it as our responsibility to teach the truly outstanding students who come here to earn a UF Law degree the value of pro bono work and giving back to the community. Our students get a taste of this during their very first week at the college through Community Service Day, where new law students in small groups go into areas of great need and do everything from painting houses to cleaning out cages at the animal shelter to building toys for pre-K students. Student efforts through our Center for Career Development’s Pro Bono and Community Service Projects add up to thousands of hours spent in service to our local communities each year. Volunteerism and public service is also promoted through our law school’s 50-plus active student organizations.

It is tremendously gratifying to witness at each law school graduation a significant indication of how well our students have embraced the philosophy of “giving back.” The funds each graduating class raises as a parting gift to the next generation of UF Law students increases each year. The spring 2009 class gift of $118,900 set a record, exceeding the closest class gift amount by more than $40,000. The generosity of these new graduates, many facing loan repayments of their own, is inspiring to all of us.