By Dean Robert Jerry
Long before I was invited to serve as the College of Law’s next dean, I had a good sense of the strength of your feelings for your law school. After all, no public law school could enjoy the respect that UFLaw has across the nation without the strong support of its alumni. In my first 25 days on the job, this good sense became a confirmed belief; there is nothing more compelling than alumni receptions in seven cities across Florida and visits to more than 50 law graduates’ offices to give me an up-close and personal view of your feelings about this great law school.
My original feelings about why I should accept the deanship at the Levin College of Law have been confirmed threefold. I had decided, having been a dean before and being happy with my situation at the University of Missouri, that any opportunity offered would have to be at a very special place to convince Lisa and me to leave Columbia, and move our three children to a new community.
I had always respected the law school at the University of Florida, but after I was contacted about the deanship here and agreed to take a look at it, the more I learned, the more excited I became. It took less than 24 hours during Lisa’s first trip to Gainesville for her to be converted. My talks and visits with you and my contacts with our exceptional staff, faculty and students have only reinforced the wisdom of the move – and the outstanding future that lies ahead. I am very proud to say that the Levin College of Law is now my academic home.
As we seek to elevate the College into the ranks of the nation’s finest, there will be both obstacles and opportunities along the way:
1) UFLaw is the envy of many other law schools around the nation. But, when we realize that Florida is one of the three or four largest and most dynamic states in the nation, it is reasonable to expect that Florida would have a law school considered among the four or five best public law schools in the nation.
That UFLaw is not consistently recognized as being comparable to schools at that level is unacceptable. When someone asks, “what are the very best public law schools in the nation,” the Levin College of Law should consistently be mentioned in everyone’s answer. No Florida resident should think that he or she needs to leave Florida to get the highest quality legal education possible.
2) Our current facilities are in keeping with neither that kind of goal nor our students’ and faculty’s needs or expectations. Our $22+ million construction project now underway will substantially alleviate the shortcomings in our facilities and will provide us a Legal Information Center and classroom facilities comparable with any in the country.
3) Last, but certainly not least, our financing is not at the level of those law schools connected with institutions that belong to the Association of American Universities.
There are many pieces to the financing puzzle, and I will work hard to rectify that situation. One piece involves the percentage of our alumni who participate in our annual giving program. Those who give do so generously, but our participation percentage last year was about 12-13 percent, below the percentages for not only the very top public law schools but also many of our peer institutions in the Southeast, including some in Florida.
Elevating the law school involves pulling many individual components together.
I will assess my own performance as your dean, and have so told the Provost, by our progress toward essential goals. In giving you that promise and my commitment of full energy and undivided attention, I also pledge to do my best to make sure that the College is, and will continue to be, worthy of your continued support.
I look forward to meeting you – either during one of my trips to a city near you, or during one of your trips to Gainesville – and the opportunity to get better acquainted.