Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Today Is a Great Day for Chapman Law School

Disneyland, in Orange County, bills itself as “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Chapman University, two miles from Disneyland in Orange County, is the happiest place on earth today. We dedicated the Dale E. Fowler School of Law earlier today. Dale and his wife Sarah Ann donated $55 million to the law school, which warrants a dedication and celebration. Chapman University traces its roots as Hesperian College, founded on March 4, 1861 during inauguration of President Lincoln. The early founders were Lincoln admirers. The Disciples of Christ college moved to Orange County from Los Angeles in 1954, a year before Disneyland opened. Chapman remained a small, religious institution until 1991 when Professor James Doti was appointed President. The faculty leader had previously served as interim president. President Doti is an entrepreneur and visionary, as well as an incredible salesman and fundraiser. His vision is to build Chapman University into a major university, being the private university in the nation’s sixth most populous county, to rival the public University of California Irvine, similar to Berkeley-Stanford or UCLA-USC. The small college had three advantages: President Doti, its location in one of the nation’s fastest growing and wealthiest counties, and George Argyros, who served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Chapman University from 1976-2001. Ambassador Argyros is a 1959 graduate of Chapman College. He became a billionaire in real estate development and corporate financing. His contacts and president Doti's vision built the Chapman University Board of Trustees. Success leads to success. They built Chapman into a strong regional university. The ambitions are national. Chapman Law School opened its doors in Anaheim rented facilities in 1995 to an entering class of 218. Donald P. Kennedy, Chairman of First American Title Insurance Company, made a large grant to the fledging law school. His name is on the law school building, but the naming of the school itself was reserved for a larger naming gift. I had the opportunity to join the faculty of the law school in 1996, the second year of operations, after researching Chapman on the internet (much more primitive in the mid 1990’s than today’s searches). It was clear that Chapman University had the potential for greatness. Today’s dedication was a well-earned blessing, an affirmation, because critical mistakes were made in the law school’s early days. The law school applied a year early for provisional ABA accreditation, which was denied with a detailed list of changes to be made. An omen of the decision was the arrival of the ABA inspection team at the parking lot of the Law School in its temporary location at South State College Blvd. and Ball Road in Anaheim. As the inspectors were exiting their cars, DEA mounted a drug bust elsewhere in the parking lot. Enrollment dropped to an entering class of only 39 a few years later. Several law students, training to be litigious lawyers, filed suit against Chapman, similar to law suits filed against other law schools in recent years for employment issues. The founding Dean, Jeremy Miller, was replaced by an experienced dean, Parham Williams, formerly of Cumberland Sanford and the University of Mississippi. The ABA recommendations were followed, and provisional ABA accreditation was received the next year, followed by membership in the Association of American Law Schools. Step by step the Law School built its way up. We built the Donald P. Kennedy Hall on the Chapman campus. We always had some exceptional students but the overall quality of the student body and faculty rose substantially in subsequent years. Four faculty members have been Supreme Court clerks. Professor Vernon Smith, with a joint appointment in the law school and The Argyros School of Business and Economics, is a Nobel Prize winner in Economics. LL.M programs have blossomed and joint degree programs established with the Argyros School of Business and Economics and the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts. The size of the overall student body remains small by law school standards, giving us one of the best student/faculty ratios (10.2) in legal education, recognizing one of the credos of Chapman University: “personalized education of distinction). Dale E. Fowler is a 1958 graduate of Chapman College. He ha smade his fortune in commercial real estate. He is giving back. The Dale E. Fowler School of Law has come a long way in 18 years. The significance of the gift should be considered in light of the issues facing the legal profession and legal education today. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times have published a number of articles over the past two years highlighting the poor employment opportunities in the legal profession and questioning the reasons for going to law school. The result has been a substantial drop in law school applications, both in the total number of applications and the quality of the applicant pool. Many law schools, including highly prestigious institutions, have reduced the size of their entering class. The $55 million gift ensures the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University is here to stay and will become a force in legal education.

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