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December 31, 2013

A new year’s message

by Dan Rodriguez

Happy New Year and very well wishes for a healthy, productive, and in every way successful, 2014 to all of our friends.

As I begin my third year as dean of Northwestern Law School and embark on a new hobby, the presidency of the Association of American Law Schools, I want to say just a few words of gratitude to all of those who have been so supportive of my work, and our collaborative initiatives, at not only this fine law school but on behalf of legal education more generally.  We live and work in challenging times.  Indeed, legal education is at a crossroads, and we would do well to continue our hard work at thinking creatively, strategically, and boldly about how best to educate our students, reduce students’ financial burdens, and equip them for a successful future in a dynamic profession.  There is no better time to rethink our central premises and refocus on our central objectives; and there is no better place to engage in this tall task than at a law school known for its innovation, its ingenuity, and its commitment to excellence.

This year brought some extraordinary successes and significant milestones.  As always, the Bluhm Legal Clinic figured prominently in these achievements.  Our Children and Family Justice Center received a MacArthur “genius” award for Creative and Effective Institutions.  Our Center on Wrongful Convictions continued its remarkable work on behalf of the wrongfully accused by helping secure key exonerations and supporting criminal justice reform in our community.  The Center on International Human Rights received many accolades, including a prestigious Berlin Prize for its distinguished director, Professor David Scheffer.

Other centers and programs prospered through their important scholarly work and professional outreach.  Building on the strong financial support of Qualcomm, Inc., the Searle Center on Law, Regulation, and Economic Growth embarked on a novel new initiative in “innovative economics,” this along with the creative policy work advanced by the Center under the imaginative leadership of its new director, Professor Matt Spitzer.  Outreach to the legal community was a prominent part of this year’s agenda at Northwestern, as we continued the good work of key programs such as the Corporate Counsel Institute (now in its second half century!), the Securities Regulation Institute, and the Garrett Institute.  We organized many conferences and meetings, bringing in distinguished lawyers and jurists to discuss, for example, jury reform, juvenile justice, sports law and many other contemporary issues of significance to our students and to the profession.  We welcomed many prominent visitors, including eminent judges and officials from the U.S. and abroad.  This fall, we brought back hundreds of alums to Streeterville for our first-ever all-alumni weekend, including our inaugural alumni awards celebration at the University Club of Chicago.

Northwestern faculty members continued to distinguish themselves with their myriad contributions and achievements.  Many new faculty books were published; several conferences and programs at Northwestern and elsewhere commemorated their insights and ideas.  In the spring, we celebrated the important contributions to American tort law by our beloved colleague, Marshall Shapo.  And, as always, the important work and service of our faculty was acknowledged through significant awards and prizes, such as a Lifetime Achievement award for our esteemed Clinic director, Tom Geraghty, a public interest award for Len Rubinowitz, and the Guggenheim Prize received by Kristen Stilt.  In all, Northwestern’s faculty showed itself again as an exceptional community of distinguished scholars, teachers, public servants – leaders and builders, innovators and entrepreneurs.  This entrepreneurial spirit was well demonstrated by two of our Clinic colleagues, Professors Esther Barron and Steve Reed, both of whom collaborated to offer the Law School’s first MOOC, “Law and the Entrepreneur,” for over 30,000 eager students worldwide.

Efforts and energies at the Law School were, as always, devoted to improving the educational experience and well-being of our law students.  In an effort to deal with the significant financial burden on Northwestern students, we had another fiscal year with a very low increase in tuition and, in addition, we significantly increased our commitment to financial aid.  We expanded our public interest program with the benefit of generous alumni gifts, providing new opportunities for graduates pursuing public interest law.  In 2014, this commitment will grow much further, with several new public interest fellowships and a meaningful increase in our loan repayment assistance support.  Equally critical were our efforts to enhance career opportunities for our students.  In this past year, we expanded the resources devoted to our career strategy program, including a greatly improved judicial clerkship program, an initiative focused on jobs in the Midwest, and a growing set of collaborations with law firms and legal organizations growing out of our emerging “external partnerships” program.  These efforts have already borne fruit, with improved graduate placement and an optimism in our community about the future.

The demands of the dynamic new legal profession requires scrupulous attention to our academic program and, in particular, to developing new ways of ensuring that are students are ready for practice and ready to lead.  In 2013, we continued to refine our curriculum in order to better meet these imperatives.  We improved our LLM/Kellogg program; we added new offerings in the intellectual property and international law areas; we even added a novel colloquium program on comparative constitutional law, with a focus on the Middle East and the Islamic world.  Our curriculum continued to build upon our strength in interdisciplinary and empirical legal studies and also on our substantial experiential learning and clinical programs.  New faculty members, full-time and adjunct, continue to help round out our ambitious, forward-looking curriculum.

The financial challenges faced by all law schools rightly push law schools to look for new sources of revenue.  Such resources are necessary to continue our commitment to excellence while simultaneously alleviating the burden on our law students.  Happily, 2013 was another record year in law school fundraising.  Two historic gifts from alums, one from Neil Bluhm ’62 of $15 million, and another from Lanny ’73 and Sharon Martin of $10 million, have helped us significantly to support initiatives of direct benefit to our students and will likewise undergird key strategic initiatives.  A new chair, created through the generosity of the Chapman family, will help support our great faculty.  Other major gifts (some of which we will announce with appropriate fanfare shortly), along with record giving in our annual fund, will likewise support our objectives and will assist us as we look at ways of reducing student debt and giving our law school at a properly small size.

In this year of great achievement and historic progress, I would be remiss if I did not mention that we have had our bittersweet moments as well; and we have experienced some losses to our community.  Valued alums have passed away, leaving us with memories of their important contributions to the Northwestern Law family.  We suffered a particularly painful loss with the passing of our beloved colleague and alumnus, Dawn Clark Netsch ‘52, in the winter of last year.  Dawn’s legacy as a teacher, scholar, public servant, and role model is unparalleled; her loss to all her Northwestern friends immeasurable.  When I think of the tough work ahead of us in making our law school and our profession better, I think of Dawn and her own remarkable contributions to making Northwestern a great law school.

With the sun setting on an active 2013, I anxiously and enthusiastically look forward to truly exceptional things to come in 2014.  This time next year, I expect to report on the successes of some innovative new programs and centers, including our masters of science in law for engineers, scientists, and medical professionals, on bold initiatives to curtail student debt burden, terrific new faculty, and improvement in our technology infrastructure and facilities.  We have had a great year at Northwestern Law, but surely the best is yet to come.

I thank all of you for your hard work, support, advice, and friendship during this past year.  There is no better community of friends than the Wildcat family.  In the vast ambit of New Year’s resolutions, my favorite is that of the great troubadour, Woody Guthrie.  I leave you with some of the highlights of his list of thirty-three.  I will promise to keep them in mind, if you do also!

“Work more and better”

“Bank all extra money”

“Stay glad”

“Work hard and fight”

“Keep hope machine running”

A very happy new year to all of you from the desk of a grateful dean.

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