By Robert Jerry II
Each month in the academic year is an important one at your law school, but this past September was special.
On Sept. 21, some of you attended a ceremony that for the first time at our law school combined two events to project in one program the themes of “past, present, and future.” With many Law Center Association trustees and other alumni in attendance, we inducted three new members of the Heritage of Leadership Society and celebrated their many past accomplishments and achievements. (See page 37 for more on the inductees.) Over 100 current law students attended to receive their Book Awards, where we celebrated their academic excellence as manifested by “leading their courses” in academic performance. The program also stressed our future responsibilities as leaders in the profession, our workplaces and our communities, something which the Heritage inductees exemplified during their careers. Indeed, I’m certain that at least a few future Heritage inductees were in the room as current students or active alumni.
At the end of September, we concluded the seven-year “Florida Tomorrow” major capital campaign, which was celebrated during a set of campuswide events the first weekend of October. Alumni and friends contributed more than $32 million to the college in gifts, pledges and bequests. (The number is actually higher, because bequests and other planned gifts of individuals who were not at least 65 years of age by the close of the campaign do not count in the official campaign total.) And as a sign of our support of the mission and goals of the broader University, our alumni and their families – many of whom have multiple Gator degrees – contributed over $70 million to other university colleges, centers, institutes, and programs. This, too, is leadership, and it is to be celebrated as well.
I hope that it is apparent to our alumni that the administration, faculty, and staff at your law school are focused on how we can continuously improve our academic program, the services and opportunities we provide our students, the quality and broad diversity of our student body, the quality of our faculty as projected through their teaching, research, and service, and everything else we do to prepare our students for entry into the profession and other opportunities for which a law degree is a desired credential. But the end of the campaign this past September is an occasion for pausing to think about what has been made possible because of you and your support.
The changes in the law school’s facilities this past decade are the most overt manifestations of our progress in recent years. These changes are illustrated by this issue’s cover art drawn by recent UF Law graduate James Ayres (JD 12). Those of you who last visited the college prior to 2005 would hardly recognize the campus today; I know this is true because I see the reaction each time I am with an alumnus returning to the law school after a long absence. (See page 16 for more on the law school’s facilities.)
As a result of the campaign, we now have several major endowed lecture series, which are making it possible for our students to have unprecedented access to U.S. Supreme Court justices, other prominent jurists and practitioners, leading thinkers in tax law and policy, antitrust law, real property law, and other fields, and programs like the panel of five former Florida governors discussing the future of Florida. (You can watch this program online via a link from our website, www.law.ufl.edu.) These presentations also help expand our college’s reputation nationwide. For example, the interview in September of Justice Clarence Thomas by four of our students, which occurred under the auspices of the Marshall M. Criser Distinguished Lecture Series, was covered in more than 200 newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal (this conversation can also be viewed online via a link at our website).
The campaign created new and augmented existing chairs and professorships that help us recruit and retain a high quality faculty. (You can review the recent accomplishments of our faculty, both nationally and internationally, in the 2012 Report From the Faculty, which is aptly titled “Impact, Influence, Innovation,” and is available from a link on our website.) September was also significant because it was the first full month of our new first-year curriculum, which now includes the course “Introduction to Lawyering.” This new required course, which is one facet of the implementation of the college’s new core-competency based mission statement (link to it via our “About” page on the Web), includes instruction in professional responsibility (setting the table for the threecredit required professional responsibility course now moved to the second year), an introduction to lawyering skills, and a major section on the nature, culture, and values of, and changes occurring in, the legal profession. We are finding things in this course that we will change and improve in the future, but we are pleased with the early results.
The 103rd September at your law school is now in the books, but for our students there are things that happened in September 2012 they will remember for the rest of their lives. We are fortunate to have alumni whose support make these occasions possible. We are very grateful for all you do, and I take this opportunity to say, once again, “thank you.”
Robert Jerry II is dean of the University of Florida Levin College of law.