COMMENTARY

A Needy Boalt Hall Looks to Private Money

By Christopher Edley Jr.
Christopher Edley Jr. is dean of UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law.

LA Times, January 17, 2005

Should we "privatize" parts of the University of California, as some have suggested? The mere mention of the idea is enough to start a war. In fact, I've learned never to use the term to describe the goals for my law school, Berkeley's Boalt Hall, because, frankly, it confuses more than illuminates.

But we do need to think about substantive structural changes in the way we do business. To understand how I view the future here at Boalt Hall, it is important to distinguish between our mission, our governance and our financing.

I am not interested in privatizing Boalt Hall's mission. The university's overall mission is to provide public access to world-class excellence at a bargain price. Unlike the UC undergraduate programs, we've never offered "mass" education we're too small for that but affordability has always been a top goal.

Yet the state is increasingly unwilling or unable to pay for excellence, so escalating tuition, partially offsetting neglectful appropriations, threatens to make the bargain a cherished memory.

Tuition for California residents at Boalt Hall, where I became dean last July, is about $22,000. That is roughly two-thirds of what Stanford and Harvard law schools charge, and double what Boalt charged just four years ago. Ten years ago, Boalt cost only a third of the top privates, and I regularly see alumni who, a generation ago, got three years of a world-class legal education for a total of $750.

So if we aren't mass, and the bargain is at risk, what is "public" about our mission? First, a great public law school must be inclusive to produce leaders for all communities and sectors. Higher tuitions forced by state cuts must be countered with strong financial aid policies and loan forgiveness for public interest graduates.

Second, we have an obligation to harness our excellence in teaching and research so that we can help tackle the toughest, most critical problems facing California, the nation and the world. The best lawyers are problem-solvers, and the best public law schools should be leveraging their intellectual capital to make a difference not just in the private sphere but in the public arena as well. Contributions that trickle by chance from a private university can, if we keep our eyes on the prize, flood forth from a great public one.

That's our public mission, and I don't intend to jeopardize it.

Nor do I want to privatize the way Boalt Hall is governed. I don't support ending the control of the regents and the Legislature over this or any other UC school. As much as I dislike the red tape and overregulation of a large public university, I welcome accountability.

But ultimately, what if Sacramento really won't fully fund our inviolate mission? Resources are vital; we can't do the job without them. The conclusion I've reached, at least for Boalt, is that we need a "burden-sharing" strategy, in which we persuade alumni and other private donors that our mission warrants their support their investment in creating leaders and solving problems that matter.

Sure, private fundraising has been on the rise at Boalt and throughout UC for some years. The dominant alumni mind-set, however, is that surely the state is paying to sustain the access and excellence that make us great, when that is no longer the case. Boalt is probably typical of UC in that a decent proportion of alumni do contribute, but in amounts that are dwarfed by private competitors. Yale Law School, with an alumni body comparable to Boalt's, has eight times as many professional fundraisers, and also eight times the endowment income per student.

We will change this. We will make the case not just to the state but to outside donors as well that having a world-class law school in a world-class research university is smart, and that it is worth supporting.

List your favorite examples of mind-bogglingly difficult challenges racial justice at home; economic growth abroad; balancing security and liberty; exploiting breakthroughs in science and technology; making our diversity a source of strength, not hate. Meaningful progress on any of these will require the skills and imagination of terrific lawyers to craft the laws and the contracts, to design the institutions and policies, to structure our businesses and protect our rights. Great public law schools can make a difference.

Ultimately, the key to getting the private resources we need, ironically, is in vigorous pursuit of our public mission.

A starvation diet for higher education is like burning seed corn. For a state that has been all about the future, the explanation for such profound error can only be a mysterious civic disease of a terrible sort. I'm patient with prayer-based remedies but, meanwhile, the excellence of Boalt and other institutions requires private resources. Is that privatization? The word's misleading, but the need is clear.