100 Years of UF Law
Q. In our last issue, we discussed changes in legal education. As the UF College of Law nears its 100-year anniversary, what are some of the most significant changes that have taken place?
Certainly the diversity of our faculty and student body has changed dramatically. We recently honored the late UF Law Professor Walter Weyrauch’s record 51 years of continuous teaching at a single institution, and he noted that when he began teaching here that teachers and students alike were male and white. Today nearly half our student body are female, and more than a quarter are minorities. We also have grown considerably in size and scope. We opened in 1909 with 38 students and two faculty members. We now have more than 1,200 students and 100 faculty members (including tenure/tenure track, legal skills, and clinical).
Q. What events do you have planned for the college’s centennial in 2009?
Our biggest event is the Centennial Celebration/ All Classes Reunion April 24-25, 2009. We’re inviting alumni from every class year to return to campus to help us celebrate this significant milestone. So far, we have planned a Century Welcome Reception, tours, Heritage of Leadership & Distinguished Alumnus ceremony, available CLE credits, a family BBQ with Albert & Alberta, decade dinners (classmates grouped by decades in separate locations), children’s dinner and movies (ages 5-12), an after party and a farewell brunch.
Q. What do you think would most surprise alumni returning to Gainesville after a significant absence?
Gainesville, the University of Florida and the College of Law have changed internally, of course, but the visual differences are most compelling. Gainesville is not a small college town anymore; it’s grown up. Highways have replaced dirt roads, and buildings stand where cows once grazed. Our college opened in 1909 in one unplastered room in Thomas Hall Dormitory. We moved to Bryan Hall in 1941, and then to the Spessard L. Holland Law Center, our current location, in 1968. We added Bruton-Geer Hall in 1984 and our two classroom towers in 2005, along with a major renovation of Holland Hall and the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center. Construction is now underway on the $6-million Martin H. Levin Legal Advocacy Center, which will house a state-of-the-art courtroom. This will complete the total reconstruction of the college’s academic space during this decade. Our physical facilities are outstanding and a marvel to those who have not seen them within the last few years.
Q. How do you characterize the state of the college today?
When UF Law celebrates its centennial in 2009, we will do so proudly as a strong, thriving law school. Applications from highly qualified to our J.D., LL.M. and S.J.D. programs increase each year. We have expanded our Graduate Tax Program, which is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best, and which now offers the LL.M. in International Taxation and the S.J.D. in Graduate Taxation in addition to the LL.M. in Graduate Taxation. Our highly regarded Environmental and Land Use Law Program now offers the nation’s first LL.M. in these closely-related fields.
The generous support of alumni and friends like those listed in the Honor Roll section of this magazine has helped us pass the halfway point in our $47-million capital campaign, and, along with tuition devolution, has been instrumental in allowing us to continue our progress despite Florida’s tight budget climate. Recent guests to our campus have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. This fall we have been honored with visits by both Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts Jr. and U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens. We are particularly proud of our faculty, whose productivity and scholarship are chronicled in our 2008 Report From the Faculty, online at www.ufl.edu. During the past three years, the faculty has published 53 books (including casebooks), with publishers including NYU, Oxford, Princeton, and the University of Chicago. The faculty has also published 251 law review articles and book chapters, with publishers including Ashgate, Cambridge and Harvard.
Q. As you look ahead, what do you see in the future for the law school?
Economic indicators continue to be bleak as this magazine goes to press, and that is cause for great concern for all of us. As a state institution, our fortunes, of course, are tied to Florida’s, and if budgets continue to decrease we will have some very difficult decisions to make. However, on our current track the law school has an historic opportunity created by the tuition differential strategy and a modest forthcoming reduction in class size to vastly increase our quality and reshape our institution, despite the budget cuts we have undergone. The support of our alumni and friends is more important now than ever. The College of Law is in the initial stages of a major strategic planning effort called “UF Law 2015,” in part in preparation for the Strategic Plan & Self-Study required for the ABA sabbatical site visit in spring 2010. We have a stellar group of faculty on our Strategic Planning Committee, and they will be considering what we would like our law school to look like in the year 2015. For the college to operate at its highest level of efficeincy and best serve our students, for example, we may envision a law school with a slightly smaller J.D. program, better studentfaculty ratios, and more skills training per student. We might look for our tuition to be close to, but below, the mean of our peer institutions. Our entering class credentials might be even stronger, as we keep more high quality Florida residents in Florida for their legal education. And we hope to improve the broad diversity of our students and faculty as well. As we look at how we educate our students in the future, we must consider choices such as class size and selection. Legal education is changing around us, and we must focus our attention on who we are and where we are going as an institution. We must look at who we are teaching, and what we are preparing our students to do. Our alumni are an important part of this effort, and we invite your suggestions and participation.
— Robert H. Jerry II Dean; LEVIN MABIE AND LEVIN PROFESSOR OF LAW