Updated: UI's next law dean outlines priorities

Updated: UI's next law dean outlines priorities

9:50 p.m. Monday July 6, 2015

CHAMPAIGN — The new dean for the University of Illinois College of Law thinks the cost of a legal education is a problem, and he's putting his own money behind that premise.

Vikram David Amar, 52, a constitutional law expert and senior associate dean for academic affairs at the University of California-Davis School of Law, was announced Monday as the next dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the 118-year-old UI law school. He succeeds Bruce Smith, who stepped down in 2014 after five years as dean. Law Professor John Colombo has served as interim dean since then.

Amar pledged to make affordability a priority and insisted that his salary be lower than what other law schools have recently offered candidates. He will earn a total of $324,900 annually, less than the $326,651 that Smith was paid in 2013-14. He also declined a summer stipend, typically about $25,000, a college official said.

"I told the provost early in our negotiations, 'I make a good living at Davis. I need to make sure that I can pay my bills and the like.' I don't want to be a martyr, but I do think that the cost of legal education is a problem. I want to not contribute to the problem but rather begin to be part of the solution," he said Monday from his office at the UC-Davis campus.

Law schools have to keep their programs within reach of people from all backgrounds, especially in light of declining enrollments nationwide and a smaller job market for law graduates, he said.

Taking a smaller salary won't solve the problem, he said, but he wants to free up resources for financial aid. He said the college will be announcing new scholarships designed to promote access.

Amar's $324,900 includes a base salary of $277,400, a $40,000 administrative stipend and $7,500 as part of his endowed professorship. The median salary for law deans nationwide in 2014 was $300,000, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Tuition at the law school for the 2015-16 academic year is $38,250 for Illinois residents and $46,000 for non-residents.

Amar will start his new job on Aug. 16 pending approval from UI trustees at their July 23 meeting in Chicago.

Besides affordability, his priorities are linking the college to other units on campus and making the law school more relevant to lawyers, judges and policy makers.

A national authority in constitutional law, federal courts and civil procedure, Amar writes a biweekly column on constitutional matters for justia.com, is a frequent commentator on radio and TV, and has penned dozens of op-ed pieces for major newspapers and magazines.

Amar was one of three finalists who visited campus this spring. The others were Robert Ahdieh, vice dean at Emory University School of Law, and Aura Rosenbury, law professor at Washington University. Rosenbury was later named dean of the University of Florida law school.

Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said Amar was the "clear choice."

"His vision of a college recognized for its cutting-edge scholarship and for close connections to the profession and society in which its graduates will serve is one that aligns perfectly with the land-grant values of this university," Adesida said in a statement. "He understands the challenges of providing world-class legal educational and professional experiences to our students while ensuring that those experiences remain affordable and accessible."

Amar said he was attracted to Illinois because it's part of a nationally known interdisciplinary research university.

"The fundamentals of the school are great," he added, citing the "superb" law faculty and accomplished alumni. The school's proximity to Chicago's legal market — and the UI's Chicago program for upper-division law students — "offers an attractive, best-of-both-worlds option for law students," he added.

Amar said he wasn't deterred by two ethics investigations at the college in recent years. In 2009, a state commission investigating the admissions clout scandal found that the law school had been forced to admit 24 politically connected law students who otherwise would have been denied admission.

In 2011, another investigation found that an assistant law school dean, Paul Pless, had manipulated test scores and other data for six entering law school classes to boost the school's academic profile and preserve its top 25 national ranking, winning substantial raises in the process.

The American Bar Association levied an unprecedented $250,000 fine and public censure against the law school for placing too much authority in Pless' hands and lacking adequate oversight. Pless resigned, and the college made structural changes to bring more oversight to admissions. The law school's ranking took a hit as a result.

Amar said he was satisfied that the data reporting issue was traced to one person, and that neither that nor the admissions problem revealed any kind of general corruption at the college.

"I don't think any of that reflects on all the great things that are at the college and the university," he said.

His goal is to "get students to look at what the college is and what it has going for it, and build on those strengths to recruit better students than ever before and get graduates jobs."

The law school has about 510 students, including 157 admitted last fall. Figures for the coming year have not yet been certified, said spokeswoman Melissa Englund.

Colombo, an alumnus of the college, called Amar a "terrific choice."

"He has both the national academic reputation and administrative experience we were looking for, and a wealth of ideas about leading the College forward in what is still an unsettled time for legal education," Colombo said.

Law Professor Andrew Leipold said faculty members are "extremely happy" about the choice, calling Amar "a national scholar, an experienced administrator and a great guy."

Amar is also a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, whom he calls America's greatest lawyer. Just as the University of Virginia is associated with Thomas Jefferson, Amar believes the UI law school should do more to "help further the values of the native son from down the road."

"The two things that defined his career were excellence in lawyering, in both public and private practice, and a commitment to ethical and professional standards. That's what a public law school should be."

Amar earned his bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and his law degree from Yale Law School. He then clerked for Judge William A. Norris of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. He joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he handled a variety of complex civil and white-collar criminal matters.

He's been an associate dean at UC Davis for seven years. Previously, he was a professor of law at UC Hastings and a visiting professor of law at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Filling jobs

The UI now has appointed or extended contracts for four deans in the last week:

College of Law: Constitutional law expert Vikram David Amar will replace Bruce Smith, who stepped down in 2014.

College of Media: Current Dean Jan Slater's contract was extended another three years, through Aug. 15, 2018. She was appointed interim dean in 2010 and then dean in '12.

College of Business: UI finance Professor Jeffrey Brown was named dean last week.

Graduate College: UI Professor Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, head of the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, was also named dean last week.

***** 

 

11:06 a.m. Monday July 6, 2015

An associate dean from the University of California-Davis School of Law will be the next dean of the University of Illinois law school, pending approval from UI trustees.

The UI has named Vikram David Amar as the next dean of the College of Law, succeeding Bruce Smith, who stepped down in 2014 after five years. Law Professor John Colombo has served as interim dean.

Amar will assume the job and also become the Iwan Foundation Professor of Law on Aug. 16, pending approval from UI trustees later this month. He will earn a total of $324,900 annually, less than the $326,651 that Smith was paid in 2013-14.

"Professor Vik Amar stood out to all of us involved in this national search as the clear choice to lead the College of Law here at Illinois," Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said in a release. "His vision of a college recognized for its cutting-edge scholarship and for close connections to the profession and society in which its graduates will serve is one that aligns perfectly with the land-grant values of this university. He understands the challenges of providing world-class legal educational and professional experiences to our students while ensuring that those experiences remain affordable and accessible."

Amar was one of three finalists who visited campus this spring. The others were Robert Ahdieh, vice dean at Emory University School of Law, and Aura Rosenbury, law professor at Washington University. Rosenbury was later named dean of the University of Florida law school.

Amar said he has been "deeply impressed by the college's highly productive and influential faculty in law and related disciplines, its dedicated staff, its talented student body, its loyal and accomplished alumni base, and its place in a premier research university located two hours from downtown Chicago, a city where the College is developing exciting programs for upper-division law students."

Amar said the college is situated between two of the most important legal venues in the world, the diverse legal market in Chicago and Springfield, which helped produce both Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln, "the greatest lawyer in American history," he said.

"My time at Illinois will be guided by the twin values that defined Mr. Lincoln's career — lawyerly excellence in private and public practice, and a commitment to the highest professional and ethical values," he said.

As dean, Amar also said he will make law school affordability a priority. He said that's one reason he insisted, as a condition of his appointment, that his compensation be "somewhat lower than the recent norm," both at Illinois and at other elite law schools.

Law schools have to keep their programs "within the reach of all persons of ability, especially the younger generation's gifted aspirants who come from modest backgrounds — the next generation's Abe Lincolns and Barack Obamas," he said.

He also pledged to keep his total compensation transparent. Amar's $324,900 includes a base salary of $277,400, a $40,000 administrative stipend, and $7,500 as part of his endowed professorship.

"These steps will not, of course, by themselves solve the affordability problem, but — as Lincoln well understood — you cannot get to your desired destination without first beginning to move in the right direction. And in the coming months our school will be creating and announcing new scholarships designed to promote access for excellent candidates of all kinds," he said in the release.

Amar is a national authority in constitutional law, federal courts, and civil procedure. He writes a biweekly column on constitutional matters for justia.com, is a frequent commentator on local and national radio and TV, and has penned dozens of op-ed pieces for major newspapers and magazines.

Amar earned his bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and his law degree from Yale Law School, where he was an articles editor for the Yale Law Journal. He then clerked for Judge William A. Norris of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and for Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. He then joined Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he handled a variety of complex civil and white collar criminal matters.

During his seven years as associate dean at UC Davis, Amar has been involved in faculty hiring, tenure, and promotions; clinical programming; admissions; career services; and curricular development. In addition to teaching at Davis, Amar has been a professor of law at UC Hastings and a visiting professor of law at UC Berkeley and UCLA.

Amar is an elected member of the American Law Institute and has served as a consultant for, among others, the National Association of Attorneys General, the United States Department of Justice, the California Attorney General's Office, the ACLU of Southern California, and the Center for Civic Education. For one year he chaired the Civil Procedure Section of the American Association of Law Schools.

Established in 1897, the UI College of Law is one of the oldest law schools in the country.

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thinks wrote on July 06, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I now address the UI communications staff, particularly those who compose press releases for top-level hires. Here is my request:

From now on, whenever UI hires a top level administrator, the first thing I ask to learn from the University is how the hiring committee has assured that the chosen candidate has a high degree of personal and professional integrity and is a decent human being to others, regardless of their level of power or status. Then I am glad to learn about the chosen candidate's vision and competencies.

I believe that the UI must begin to place an absolute priority on the compassion and integrity of its staff: retaining staff who demonstrate these qualities and hiring for them in new staff. Too often in the hiring process, the University uses an expressed commitment to diversity to stand in place of these qualities. The evaluation of character must include but be broader than this, and speak to the ability of each staff member to behave ethically (not just pass the state ethics exam) and act compassionately in daily interactions with others at all levels and in all roles.

 

thinks wrote on July 06, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I now address the UI communications staff, particularly those who compose press releases for top-level hires. Here is my request:

From now on, whenever UI hires a top level administrator, the first thing I ask to learn from the University is how the hiring committee has assured that the chosen candidate has a high degree of personal and professional integrity and is a decent human being to others, regardless of their level of power or status. Then I am glad to learn about the chosen candidate's vision and competencies.

I believe that the UI must begin to place an absolute priority on the compassion and integrity of its staff: retaining staff who demonstrate these qualities and hiring for them in new staff. Too often in the hiring process, the University uses an expressed commitment to diversity to stand in place of these qualities. The evaluation of character must include but be broader than this, and speak to the ability of each staff member to behave ethically (not just pass the state ethics exam) and act compassionately in daily interactions with others at all levels and in all roles.

 

thinks wrote on July 06, 2015 at 12:07 pm

I now address the UI communications staff, particularly those who compose press releases for top-level hires. Here is my request:

From now on, whenever UI hires a top level administrator, the first thing I ask to learn from the University is how the hiring committee has assured that the chosen candidate has a high degree of personal and professional integrity and is a decent human being to others, regardless of their level of power or status. Then I am glad to learn about the chosen candidate's vision and competencies.

I believe that the UI must begin to place an absolute priority on the compassion and integrity of its staff: retaining staff who demonstrate these qualities and hiring for them in new staff. Too often in the hiring process, the University uses an expressed commitment to diversity to stand in place of these qualities. The evaluation of character must include but be broader than this, and speak to the ability of each staff member to behave ethically (not just pass the state ethics exam) and act compassionately in daily interactions with others at all levels and in all roles.