Monday, December 10, 2007

Innovation and fundraising

Several weeks ago, Mark Osler posted a short item on Law School Innovation that was as important as it was intriguing. Mark invited commentary, but none appeared at LSI. Though I've come late to the party, I thought I'd provide a response here at MoneyLaw.

Mark's post began with a reference to a Los Angeles Times article on the fundraising challenge that lies before Erwin Chemerinsky at UC-Irvine. Since the L.A. Times article now requires registration, I will excerpt some crucial passages:
Erwin ChemerinskyAlthough the controversy over Chemerinsky's recent hiring, firing and rehiring has raised questions about the leadership of UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, experts in philanthropy say it probably will have little or no effect on raising money. . . .

What will matter, experts say, is Chemerinsky's lack of fundraising experience and the fact that UC Irvine's law school has no alumni whose wallets it can tap. . . .

"A decade ago . . . you heard a lot of academics who said, 'I didn't get into this line of work to raise money,'" said Gene Tempel, executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. "Today, there isn't a dean or top administrator at a university who is hired without the expectation of fundraising on the table."

Driving the need for private money is the continued decline of state support for public higher education and the cost of luring and keeping star professors who will attract top students.
The L.A. Times quotes Brian Leiter for the related propositions that (1) top-rated faculty are the primary driver of reputation and prospective students' marginal propensity to enroll and (2) those premier professors are getting more expensive. Based on his comments to the Times, Erwin Chemerinsky certainly seems to agree: "Chemerinsky said he is laying the groundwork for his fundraising effort by recruiting high-profile faculty who will inspire donors."

Read the rest of this post . . . .Donald BrenUCI and its new dean are — to use a highly technical term from development science — loaded. Rather famously, UCI got a naming gift of $20 million from Donald Bren. The Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation and Mark P. Robinson Jr. have each pledged $1 million each. The L.A. Times also reported that eleven large law firms (presumably all in Orange County, or at least in greater southern California) have pledged $100,000 each. That is a war chest exceeding $23 million, and UCI hasn't yet staged a single class.

So much for the prologue. Intriguing as the prologue is in its own right — seriously, the Leiter-Chemerinsky hypothesis on the putative link between faculty reputation, student behavior, and fundraising would be worth a conference, or at least an extended discussion on MoneyLaw — Mark Osler's question on the relationship between innovation and fundraising also warrants very close attention:
Though I would hope that innovation would generally help fund-raising for a law school, I fear that in some instances it may work the other way.

It would seem that donors would be encouraged to give when they see their school fostering new forms of teaching and scholarship. It would show the donor that the school is intellectually active and growing. Perhaps just as importantly, the creation of new professorships, programs, classes, and physical space also creates things to be endowed and named for supportive donors. . . .

On the other hand, it would seem that many law school donors are graduates of the school, who often want to see their own experience replicated. They are attached to established professors and programs, and may be hostile to movements away from a focus on traditional methods. The danger here is obvious: That such donors will discourage a school from innovating, as it is no secret that big donors can and do influence many administrative decisions.
It's rare that a single post could give rise to not one but two discussion threads on MoneyLaw, but Mark Osler has accomplished this feat. The relationship between programmatic innovation and fundraising poses a profoundly important question for educational administration. In declining order of explicitness and increasing order of importance for me and my constituents, I'll be answering that question here, at The Cardinal Lawyer, and through my official actions.

For now, I'll make a few quick observations that, with any luck, will lay the table for future posts and commentary:
  • UCI has no alumni. To the extent that the Osler hypothesis is valid (law school graduates are temperamentally conservative and will steer law school management accordingly through their donations), UCI's clean slate gives Erwin Chemerinsky a chance to avoid this pitfall.

  • That, and the aforementioned opening war chest of $23.1 million dollars.

  • Every "professorship[], program[], class[], and physical space . . . creates things to be endowed and named for supportive donors." Naming these things for anything else — historical figures, geographic features, former dignitaries at the law school or its host university — had better be accompanied with offsetting cash. Forgetting this fundamental truth is decanal malpractice. People say they are inspired by their heroes. And so they might well be. When it comes to naming things, though, people like to name things for themselves. And people who can afford to pay for this very privilege, given genuine reason to believe that the program or place or school would be worthy of the donor's name, often will pay.

  • Mark Osler, you have great fundraising instincts, better than those bizarre "academics who [have] said, 'I didn't get into this line of work to raise money.'"
InnovationI'll close with what I have learned after nearly a year on the job. Yes, "many law school donors are graduates of the school." The happiest graduates are the likeliest to give, and happy graduates do "often want to see their own experience replicated." But this may be the lone respect in which Mark Osler has misspoken. Though alumni are often fond of "established professors and programs," the most generous alumni can afford to be generous because they are financially successful. No matter how much they enjoyed their law school years, the big winners in any alumni pool look forward because looking forward made them big winners. Though craven and hidebound forces abound in the academy, in courts and legislatures, and throughout the legal profession, there is plenty of room for the true American dream: phenomenal, family-changing financial success earned by dint of risk-taking, innovation, and hard work. Entrepreneurial alumni are the true champions of law school innovation, and any law school dean who wants to succeed through innovation will want friends like these.


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