Chemerinsky’s Challenge: The Race to Raise Finances

The controversy surrounding Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of UC Irvine’s law school, which is set to open in 2009, has not been resolved.
According to e-mails and letters recently released by the University of California, State Appeals Court Justice William F. Rylaarsdam wrote in August that he was ‘concerned that [Chemerinsky] is the wrong person for a law school in Orange County. I do not know to what extent the new law school will look to the Orange County business community for support. If such support is contemplated, however, the selection committee should realize that Professor Chemerinsky and the faculty he would be inclined to recruit would not be well-received by that community.’
Rylaarsdam’s prediction appears to have come to fruition this week when Chemerinsky’s difficulties in raising funds for the opening of the new law school were exposed. The founding dean has a large set of tasks before him, including raising tens of millions of dollars to open the school, erect buildings and fund an endowment. Unlike long-established law schools that can mine the wallets of prestigious alumni, UCI’s new law school has no such network. Thus, funding must essentially be done ‘from scratch.’ In addition, Chemerinsky has little in the way of fundraising experience, having focused his career on the teaching and practicing of law. This is obviously an ideal background for the dean of a law school, but the success of the school will depend on whether or not Chemerinsky can raise enough money to build it.
In 2006, UCI set an all-time fundraising record by receiving private gifts totaling more than $100 million (a 42 percent increase over the previous year, and a 190 percent increase over the last four years). According to the Council for Aid to Education, last year alone higher education received $28 billion in donations nationwide, up from $23.2 billion in 2000. It would seem that there would be no trouble raising funds.
In fact, money is already coming in: the foundation of Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren gave $20 million (which bought him naming rights to the law school), the Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation and Newport Beach Attorney Mark P. Robinson Jr. pledged $1 million each and 11 large law firms have pledged gifts of $100,000 each.
These numbers are actually greater than the projections made by UCI in 2001, which predicted that less than $1 million would be raised every year until the school’s opening in 2009, and $2.3 million raised per year by 2012. However, Chemerinsky has stated that those original numbers were faulty. ‘When I saw them, I said ‘No, no. Legal education is much more expensive.’ They didn’t have an understanding of what law schools cost