Skip to main content

Letter from the Dean

spring 2002

Dear Alumni and Friends of Boston College Law School:

Boston College Law School is enjoying a remarkable year. We exceeded 7,200 applications for admission to the Class of 2005, surpassing last year’s pool by more than 1,500. The faculty we hired a year ago have brought more than we hoped for to their classes and to enriching our community. The number of donors making commitments of financial support to BC Law is up about 1,000 over last year’s total. It is an exciting time.

In two years the Law School will celebrate its 75th anniversary. We’re already making plans for that occasion, a significant one in our history. But our primary focus is forward—into the future. If the Law School continues on the trajectory it has followed since 1929, it will be an even more remarkable, and possibly quite different, place ten years from now. We need to anticipate what lies ahead and make plans accordingly. To that end, we recently began a strategic planning process that we anticipate will occupy us for at least the next year.

In law as in any business, if we want to be successful we have to ask ourselves: Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? We are among the top law schools in the United States, and that’s a very good place to be. But we do not have tenure in that position. We must be vigilant to ensure our place and, in fact, to better it.

Our Objectives
We have undertaken a strategic planning process with several objectives in mind: 1) to reinforce our mission; 2) to address the implications of teaching an ever-expanding body of law; 3) to further the quality of our academic programs and the work of our faculty; 4) to anticipate long-term physical plant and technological needs; and 5) to consider opportunities for enhancing our financial resources and especially to improve fundraising.

Here’s a brief overview of these areas, to help you understand some of what our strategic planning seeks to address.

1) Reinforcing the Law School’s defining characteristics and mission is vital if we are to move forward with a purpose. From the Law School’s founding, it has taken pride in and benefited from its Jesuit, Catholic heritage. The strategic planning process compels us to ask how this perspective continues to be defined in a law school setting and to examine how our Jesuit heritage may enable BC Law to distinguish itself from its competitors. As we enter the discussion, we must be mindful of two important considerations: One, we must maintain our commitment to academic freedom, quality, and distinction. Two, the characterization of who we are must be inclusive and resonate with the diverse community of alumni, faculty, and students who have long been our strength.

2) The subject of law is growing at a very rapid rate, and through the years our course offerings have grown substantially as the Law School has sought to keep its curriculum current. When BC Law started there were 29 required courses and 3 electives. By Fr. Robert Drinan’s time, we offered 56 elective courses. Today’s students take seven required courses in the first year, and then may choose from among nearly 150 electives in their upper years. The situation raises a host of fundamental and critical questions for us. They range from the basic, What should we teach? to the more nuanced, Where do we focus? How much of everything should we try to teach? Can it or should it be done with full-time faculty? If not, how do we strike a balance between full-time and adjunct faculty? What impact does course growth have on our support systems, such as library holdings, student services, and administrative staffing? And on class size? Competition among law schools for top applicants demands low faculty-student ratios. Indeed, small classes and individual attention are defining features of the educational experience at Boston College Law School and are an important part of our distinction. But how do we afford to keep that level of intimacy and caring? Should we raise tuition, which is already high, or must we admit more students and give up our character as a rather small law school?

The number of courses and the size of classes are one thing; the nature of our curriculum and the quality of our academic programs and faculty are another. The strategic planning process should guide us in determining where to place our emphasis. It forces us to consider, for instance, how an increasingly global marketplace has heightened interest among faculty, students, and employers in the study of business and international law. Should we strengthen these—and other popular—programs and, if so, what impact will that have on our ability to address different legal specialties? We must examine other questions as well. Are we fulfilling our belief in the importance and values of public interest work and involvement? What should be the balance between traditional instruction and clinical or other co-curricular experiences? There are many others.

3) Our faculty are the standard-bearers of the high-quality legal education we offer. To encourage still greater levels of achievement among our scholars means to find ever more effective ways to support their work. What can we do to ensure that they have the time and resources they need to do their best teaching and research? What will enable and inspire them to stay in the academic vanguard? How do we place them in settings that will provide broad exposure for their ideas and scholarship? Can we broadcast their achievements better? How do we encourage their creativity in keeping our curriculum vibrant? Finding answers to these questions is not only essential to maintaining an engaged and productive faculty, but also to attracting top-ranking newcomers.

4) Our capacity for programmatic and systemic change is dependent in part on our ability to adapt and expand the physical plant to accommodate new expectations and needs. Completing the construction of the new Law Library in 1996 and the East Wing in 1999 made dramatic improvements in the physical environment our students, faculty, and staff enjoy. In the past two summers we have renovated the Stuart House classrooms to bring them up to the standard of our new buildings. Many of the improvements were technological; all our classrooms today have internet connections, including wireless, and classes are taught with state-of-the-art equipment.

As strategic planning addresses the question of an expanding curriculum that I noted earlier, it must consider where more classes will be taught, where more faculty can have offices, where student organizations can function effectively. We must ask, for instance, where on our evolving list of priorities the proposed renovations to the old Kenny Cottle Library and Stuart House should be put.

Beyond our campus other influences exert pressure on us. Skyrocketing housing costs in the Boston area, for instance, are fueling calls for law student housing. Strategic planning gives us the opportunity to ask whether affordable student accommodations are or may become significant in attracting top-tier candidates and, if so, what our response should be.

5) Visions of the future are just pipe dreams unless they are matched by a determination to make them real. We cannot be a great law school on the cheap. The University of which we are a part proved that for itself in the past few decades. Between 1970 and 2002 Boston College rose from a predominantly commuter school to a renowned research university. During the same period its endowment grew from literally nothing to more than $1 billion. These developments are intertwined. As we devise a plan for BC Law, we will find useful lessons in the University’s successful strategies.

Boston College Law School has been a remarkable overachiever. Among the top 50 law schools in America, every private school has a larger endowment than we have. I am deeply troubled, for example, that we have only one endowed professorship. Every private law school in the top 50, and most public ones, has more endowed faculty positions than we do. In the competitive marketplace for retaining and attracting the caliber of faculty we want and must have, we are at a distinct disadvantage. Similarly, as we resolve to encourage faculty to be better scholars and better teachers we must have the permanent resources to offer them the opportunity to pursue those objectives. We must also confront the reality that our students endure increasing financial strains to attend law school. We need to find reasonable options for assisting them to attend BC Law. These are just some of the opportunities to be addressed.

A Process of Self-definition

On the day we opened in 1929 it would have seemed the height of presumption to dream of being one of the best law schools in America. But we have accomplished that and more. Since the 1980’s we have appeared almost annually on the U.S. News & World Report’s list of the 25 best law schools. This is a position we cherish. Our strategic plan will not ask how to hold our current position, but how to improve it. Why should we not aspire to be one of America’s ten best?

I welcome your thoughts as we move forward with our strategic planning. There will be a number of settings in which alumni will be invited to participate in discussions, but that is obviously not practicable for all 9,300 of our graduates. So please feel free to write me at the Law School or email me at garvey@bc.edu to offer your thoughts and suggestions. I will be sure they get to the strategic planning steering committee.

The process we have embarked on is not just one of study and understanding. It is a process of self-definition. We can be who we want to be. In that creative endeavor every member of this community will play a part. Your willingness to invest your resources, both financial and intellectual, will make the difference in how well we succeed.

Sincerely,
John H. Garvey