Letter from the President: Board authorizes law school study


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5:52 p.m., Dec. 7, 2010----Editor's note: The following letter to the University of Delaware community is from UD President Patrick Harker.

December 7, 2010

This afternoon, the Board of Trustees authorized University officials to prepare a feasibility study and a business plan for the establishment of a new University of Delaware Law School at its campus in Newark.

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The board has not yet formally approved the formation of a new law school. The final Board decision is still several years away, and will await refined analysis, additional faculty input and the completion of a targeted fundraising campaign. Under the timetable we discussed with the trustees today, the board would be asked in the spring of 2013 to authorize the establishment of a new law school, with the objective of recruiting and hiring the founding law school dean during the 2013-2014 academic year and admitting our first law students for classes beginning in fall 2015.

The University's strategic plan, the Path to ProminenceTM, pledges that UD “will invest in professional programs that provide excellence, uniqueness, impact and response to societal needs,” including professional degree programs in “health, education, business and law.” No matter what group of universities UD uses for comparison purposes, we stand out as one of the few without a professional degree program in law or medicine.

Investing in a new law school is expensive. It would require subsidization of operating costs for the better part of a decade, retrofitting a campus building or leasing space for the law school's first decade of existence, and making a substantial one-time start-up investment in library resources. The need to pursue philanthropic gifts in support of a new law school is critical, particularly in a revenue-based-budgeting world.

For the last year, a small task force of University officials has been at work exploring the feasibility of establishing a University of Delaware Law School. I presented the task force's preliminary findings at meetings of the Board of Trustees' Executive Committee and the Trustee Committee on Academic Affairs last month. Both committees unanimously adopted resolutions recommending preparation of a formal feasibility study (one of the documents required by the American Bar Association as part of the provisional accreditation process) and a full-fledged business plan (another required component of the application for provisional accreditation). Those two documents will be presented to the board at its next meeting in May 2011. After that meeting, and with authorization from the board, we will embark on an intensive two-year period of curricular design, financial analysis and operational planning. This process will involve obtaining input from a variety of academic and administrative departments and units. Not until 2013 would the Board of Trustees formally be asked to approve a new law school -- and only if we are convinced at that point that we can afford it, that we can contribute significantly to legal education nationally and that our University and our state will be stronger for the effort.

To achieve parity with the nation's leading higher education institutions, one of the most impactful investments we can make is in the founding of a law school. Much analytic work remains to be done. But speaking for the trustees who approved today's resolution and the members of the task force whose hard work enabled us to reach this stage, I can say that the establishment of a law school has the potential to support UD's growing prominence and move us into the next rank of American higher education.


Patrick T. Harker