UC Law School Needs to Privatize, Dean Says

Times Staff Writer

Christopher Edley Jr.'s “single most important observation” in his first year as dean of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law is this: “People in California are slightly crazy.”

Edley isn’t talking about the colorful characters on and around the Berkeley campus. What is crazy, he says, is the way California has scaled back spending on education.

From “leading the nation and the world with a model of a world-class education for everyone,” the former Harvard law professor said, the state has settled for “something like ‘better than Mississippi.’ ”


What concerns him most immediately is the condition of his law school, one of the brightest jewels in the UC crown, which is now facing serious problems.

Edley’s plan to maintain Boalt Hall’s status as one of the nation’s top law schools is bold. It is also unusual for a liberal law professor who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations: He wants to privatize it.

Not completely, of course. Edley emphasizes that Boalt would retain the defining competitive advantages it has as a public law school: a commitment to public service, a diverse student body and ties to UC Berkeley’s world-leading academic departments.

“Make no mistake, we will not privatize our mission, nor will we privatize the character of our student body,” he said.

But in an era in which the school can no longer count on state funds to cover its needs, he wants Boalt to have greater control over its own management and finances. Edley wants to be free to make changes -- such as increasing the faculty size by roughly a third -- without having to obtain approval of Berkeley administrators.

“If the [state] is unwilling or unable to pay the bill, we need a strategy that does not depend on a miraculous turnaround,” Edley said.

“At least we ought to eat what we kill,” he added. This winter, Edley plans to announce a multiyear capital campaign to raise $100 million. It is a staggering sum for Boalt; the school’s last capital campaign wrapped up in 1992 after raising $14 million.

Eventually he hopes to raise $300 million to build the endowment of the 950-student law school. Only then, and with a modest amount of continuing state support, he said, will Boalt have per-student funds to make it competitive with rivals like Yale, Stanford and New York University and have enough money for student financial aid.

To make such a fundraising campaign work, “I need to be able to say to students and donors: ‘If you invest in Boalt Hall, it will strengthen our school, not go to state prisons, UC Riverside or the Berkeley chemistry department.’ ”

Although the rest of the university does not formally share in donations to the law school, Edley and others fear that the school could wind up using portions of the gifts to meet required payments to the central university for things like maintenance.

The idea of privatizing a University of California law school is not new. Then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Boalt alumnus, proposed in 1993 that one of UC’s four law schools be made private.

The idea went nowhere. But much has changed since then.

The idea of privately funding Boalt might once have antagonized the faculty -- this is a school where all the openly conservative professors could carpool in a Miata. Now, many professors say they don’t see an alternative and will take what works to remain competitive.

On a campus where departments expect to rank among the best, the law school has fallen out of the top 10 in some national ratings. Its nonresident tuition has soared to match the priciest private institutions. It is losing faculty to rivals and has outgrown its aged buildings.

As Edley points out, state money has faded from 60% of Boalt’s budget in 1994 to 30%. That has been offset mainly by higher tuition: California residents pay just under $22,000 a year to attend the law school, about double the rate four years ago. Annual out-of-state tuition is nearly $34,000.

Boalt needs money to hire more professors and to retain faculty. Burgeoning new fields, including international law, environmental law and intellectual property, mean law schools need to add courses and faculty. Meanwhile, Boalt is relying more on part-time instructors.

Stephen Sugarman, associate dean and a professor since 1972, noted the departure of veteran and promising younger faculty to deep-pocketed private schools. Sugarman said such moves were almost unheard of until a few years ago. From his office overlooking San Francisco Bay, Sugarman said professors who choose other schools “feel there are advantages ... more colleagues, a better student-faculty ratio.”

Boalt Hall’s starting pay for new faculty, averaging $125,000 annually, is close to what top private schools offer, but those schools can afford to offer more generous perks, Edley said. At the senior faculty level, the pay gap is pronounced, with annual salary differences ranging from $35,000 to $100,000, he said.

Philip Frickey, a Boalt professor who coordinates faculty recruiting, said morale sank during the last school year when all three candidates offered jobs at Boalt turned them down, another first. The jobs remain open.

Edley wants to continue to receive some state support, mainly for faculty salaries. Boalt professors and students would also continue to benefit from collaborating with other Berkeley faculty. But he expects the law school to keep more of what it brings in through tuition and fundraising and pay less to the Berkeley campus and UC system.

Law schools of the universities of Michigan and Virginia already run on such a model and are the only public law schools ranked in the top 10. Boalt was ranked 13th this year by U.S. News & World Report, down from seventh a year ago.

Along with grades and test scores, that rating and similar ones consider factors that include student-faculty ratios, which have suffered at Boalt during its financial squeeze. (UCLA’s law school placed 16th in the survey, while UC Davis ranked 33rd and UC’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco was 36th.)

Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said schools considering private funding models must do so cautiously.

“Public institutions were created to serve the public. The question is, ‘Will they continue to do so effectively?’ ” he said. “In a state with a growing young low-income population, how will this affect the next generation’s ability to go to a good law school, not just those with big bucks?”

Boalt graduates pursue careers in such “public interest” fields as nonprofit advocacy groups at about twice the rate as students from private law schools like Stanford and USC. Boalt’s hefty tuition could change that, Edley fears. So he wants to expand loan-forgiveness programs to cut students’ debt, enabling them to accept lower-paying public interest jobs. Financial aid also would increase.

So far, UC officials say they are open to discussing Edley’s ideas. Altering the relationship between the law school and UC would ultimately require approval by the UC Board of Regents, but raising more money from private sources “is something we’re all doing [throughout UC] as a direct result of cuts in state funding,” said Ravi Poorsina, a representative for the UC office of the president.

Edley, 51, might be the one dean who could make such a change work at Boalt. His high profile as a civil rights advocate and the first African American to head a top national law school has attracted positive attention to the school, a welcome change after several years of negatives.

Before Edley arrived, the school’s image had been tarnished by troubles with low minority enrollment and the departure of its previous dean after an accusation of sexual harassment.

In 1997, Boalt admitted a first-year class with only one African American student, and minority enrollment only recently recovered to levels of the early 1990s: In the current first-year class of 281 students, 14 are African American and 34 are Latino.

Now, Frickey said, excitement over Edley’s arrival is prompting phone calls from professors at other law schools interested in working at Boalt. “Whatever cloud was over Boalt is now lifting. It’s exciting to be here,” he said.

Edley could well have finished his career in his previous comfortable position as a tenured professor at Harvard Law School. But he likes tough challenges. He jokes about being on his third marriage. In hilly Berkeley, he bicycles to work as part of his recovery from recent triple bypass surgery.

Edley served as a domestic policy advisor in the Carter administration and was an Office of Management and Budget official and special counsel under President Clinton. At Harvard, his work centered on the Civil Rights Project, a center he founded to generate scholarship on racial justice issues.

He plans to establish a Berkeley branch and said he has been cheered by Boalt’s enthusiasm for the project, which he felt was not embraced by Harvard.

Public service and social change “are at the core of what I am about,” Edley said, and are the main reasons he took his job despite its challenges.

“There’s no reason,” he added, “why a sensible person would want to be dean of a law school.”