The Path to pre-eminence

For the nonlawyer, images of young southern John Grisham advocates or the cold ch-chunk of the Law & Order signifier rule the popular consciousness of Americans when it comes to the law. But it is often the less, shall we say, Hollywood areas of practice like corporate and business law that will impact lives on a daily basis.

Over the next five years, the University of Florida’s Preeminence Plan aims to boost the university’s already-strong reputation into the strata of the nation’s top-ranked research universities. The state has promised $15 million annually for five years. Adding money raised by UF from alumni and friends, as many as 130 new faculty members will be hired in the coming years.

The term “research university” might paint a picture of white coats shuffling test tubes around in a sterile lab, but there are a multitude of factors that go into helping UF reach its preeminence goals. And business law is an important one.

Thanks to preeminence funding, UF’s Levin College of Law plans to add a leading business and corporate law scholar to its faculty in the fall to help vault the university as a whole.

Robert Rhee

Robert Rhee

Robert Rhee will come to UF Law from the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, where he has established himself as a leading scholar in business law, with articles published in numerous law journals and his scholarship frequently cited in top law books and law reviews.

In case it’s not immediately clear how a legal expert in business law ties into UF’s Preeminence Plan, consider this: business and corporate law intersects with just about every newly incubated company, emerging technology, market strategy, and business operation in the U.S.  Indeed, business and corporate law is intertwined with almost every facet of our country’s economic fabric.

“Corporate law might not be in the forefront of the average person’s thinking about business, but its presence is ubiquitous in our economy and our culture,” said UF Law Dean Robert Jerry. “By bringing on a top-flight business and corporate law scholar to UF Law, we will both bolster the college’s excellent faculty and be situated to leverage this professor’s research and expertise to help the university as a whole.”

Rhee, who will be the John H. and Mary Lou Dasburg Professor of Law, is expected to offer unique insights into “big data” issues in financial regulation, investment banking, distressed restructurings, private equity funding, debt and equity issuances, and fiduciary duty and governance in business organizations. This could also lead to an array of possibilities to work with other areas of the university, including the Warrington College of Business.

The immediate effect of Rhee is already clear. He will make an already-strong business law team – with the No. 2 tax program in the country and some of the top antitrust faculty of any university – even stronger.

 With a Little Help From Baby Juan

By Kelcee Griffis

John DasburgJohn Dasburg (JD 73) earned degrees from the University of Florida in business, engineering and law. Now a successful businessman as chairman and CEO of ASTAR Air Cargo based in Miami, Dasburg is backing each of these colleges and has become one of the driving forces behind the University of Florida’s rise to preeminence.

The university calls faculty endowments “the cornerstone of UF pre-eminence” and part of an $800 million fundraising initiative to reinforce its standing as a premier university. The goal is to create 100 new faculty endowments over five years for a total of 500.

Dasburg is out front on this effort. With his most recent $1.5 million donation, he became the only person to endow chairs in three different colleges, including the John H. & Mary Lou Dasburg Professor of Law. The latest gift went to the College of Engineering, which completes gifts to the three academic disciplines in which he earned degrees. The gift came following Gov. Rick Scott’s approval of law granting state funds to promote UF’s “academic and research pre-eminence.”

“I’m a believer that a university is, at its very heart, the faculty,” Dasburg said. “I’m a strong believer in supporting the faculty.”

In April, Dasburg, a former member of the UF board of trustees who has served as CEO of numerous national corporations, received an honorary doctorate from the Warrington College of Business Administration. Meanwhile, the house under construction for the next university president will have Dasburg’s name on it thanks to his $3.5 million lead gift. The house is slated for construction along Village Drive across the street from the UF Law campus.

Dasburg’s gifts are unusually generous. But giving to causes and units throughout the university is actually typical of UF Law alumni. Since the University of Florida Foundation has kept records, UF law alumni have given almost $52 million to the law school. During the same period, those alumni have given almost $158 million to the university as a whole.

Dasburg’s gift for the president’s house had something to do with the current university president.

Dasburg said he was celebrating the birth of his first grandson, Juan, with his family. On the way home from the hospital after visiting the newborn, they stopped by an ice cream shop on West University Avenue in Gainesville. The shop was empty except for one small group: Dasburg’s longtime friend, UF President Bernie Machen and his granddaughters.

They were all happy and excited, Dasburg said. That’s when Machen, who is leaving the president’s job in December, sprung a question.

“President Machen knew I was vulnerable, and he got me in a moment of vulnerability,” Dasburg said, chuckling. “President Machen said, ‘Now wouldn’t it be nice, now that you have a grandson, if the new president’s house had your name on it?’ I said, ‘Well, that would be nice.’

“You might say that the president’s house is in celebration of my grandson.”