A message from Erwin Chemerinsky

I write this as the academic year comes to a close.   It is now almost exactly a year since I accepted the position of being dean at Berkeley Law and more than 10 months since I arrived.  I thought in this initial column for the Bulletin that I would share a few observations.

I came with high expectations and Berkeley Law is even much better than I could have hoped.   The faculty is comprised of individuals who are great teachers and great scholars.   I, of course, had a sense of this before arriving, but I knew much less about the staff.   The law school is tremendously blessed to have a dedicated and terrific staff.  Without exception, they are over-worked and under-paid.   In so many areas, the law school is desperately under staffed and many individuals on the staff are doing the work of two or three people.

The Berkeley Law students, in all of our many programs, are wonderful.  I had the chance to teach a large section of Constitutional Law this semester and being in class with them was a joy.  I also very much enjoyed the chance to have a “coffee with the students” every two weeks.  Our students are passionate about improving the law school and the legal system.

I quickly came to realize that Berkeley Law had been through some difficult times.  But I saw that despite this, the institution was healthy and poised to move forward.  I benefit enormously, on literally a daily basis, from the work of those who were my predecessors as dean.  I particularly want to recognize Chris Edley and Melissa Murray.   As I look at the law school, so much that is here – the vibrant centers, the beautiful addition, even the size of the faculty – is because of Chris Edley’s terrific leadership.  And Melissa Murray became dean under the most difficult circumstances and did a superb job of stabilizing and healing the school.

I know, of course, that the law school continues to face serious challenges.  I am very concerned about the departure of a number of outstanding faculty members over the last several years.   We must retain our excellent colleagues and do significant new hiring in the years ahead.  We must restore the budget cuts and rebuild our staff.

The largest challenge is financial.  Berkeley Law has been hit by a double whammy.  The tuition for the four UC law schools has been frozen since 2012.  We were supposed to get an increase in 2016, but Governor Jerry Brown said that all of the other professional schools could have a fee increase on the condition that the law schools be frozen until 2020.  We are increasingly dependent on tuition and this freeze in revenue has been very difficult.  At the same time, the campus has been ordered to eliminate its $150 million structural deficit, which has caused a restriction on expenditures for all parts of the campus.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the campus imposed a $2 million cut on expenditures.   For 2018-19, it will be an additional $1 million ($950,000 to be precise) cut.  And we face a $550,000 cut in 2019-20.  The campus is confident that the structural deficit will be eliminated by 2020.   That also is the year in which we should get a PDST increase.

For this fiscal year, I am confident that we can handle our budget situation without needing to cut any programs or layoff any staff.   This is the result of additional revenue sources (revenue from the undergraduate Legal Studies program, new revenue generating programs), a good year in development, and careful management of our budget especially by Drew Knab and Shivani Bhatia.

For the longer term, I am very optimistic about our financial situation.   We have enormous opportunity for additional fund raising.  I am excited that Mary Matheron, previously the head of development at Yale Law School (and before that Georgetown Law School), will be joining us July 1.  I also think we have great opportunities for more revenue generating programs.

Most of all, what attracted me to Berkeley Law was its public mission.   I see that at the core of everything we do.  I am excited to do all I can to advance this mission and help enhance the excellence of Berkeley Law.

I am very grateful to everyone for their enormous kindness and support in my first year here.  I could not possibly have been more warmly welcomed.  I feel so proud and excited to be part of this wonderful community.

With best wishes,