Gerhard, Wherefore Art Thou?

 Michael Schill, who was announced yesterday as the new dean of the University of Chicago Law School, has always struck me as a nice guy. 

He came to visit us at the newsroom at the Los Angeles Daily Journal early in his tenure at UCLA and gamely ate pizza off filing cabinets alongside reporters and editors as he gave us his stump speech on his plans for UCLA.  And he’s reportedly done a good job there. In the memo announcing his departure, UCLA execs noted that he’s already endowed 65 percent of a $100M fund started last year, and endowed 13 academic chairs.

Still, his selection to lead the University of Chicago seems like another in a series of meandering choices leaving the impression the school lacks a clear vision of its role in the legal education pantheon. 

My acquaintance with The Law School at The University of Chicago (circa 1982), began as a 1L when the school was securely in the top 5 of the nation’s elite schools and it had a crystal clear vision of its role as the house that law and economics built. Richard Posner was in fine form as a lecturer and judge, Frank Easterbrook, Daniel Fischel and William Landes held court and Cass Sunstein, Richard Epstein and Geoffrey Stone were in the house.

To clarify. Since the early ’80s, Chicago has swung from the rigid Gerhard Casper, to the peace and love and God Bless the University constitutional scholar Geoff Stone, to Daniel Fischel, the brilliant but fallible economist who was unceremoniously dumped, to Doug Baird (whose intellect is second to none and whose managerial skills were none to none). Baird was replaced by Saul Levmore, who announced his resignation in February, and he has now been replaced by Schill.

Law professor blogs are posting what a great job Schill did in instilling a discipline in UCLA’s communication department so the professors now get called by the media and at his fundraising prowess. (Given that we’re based in Southern California, we need to note that UCLA has, at best, kept its position against archrival USC and fast-rising Loyola. To add insult to injury the UCErwinChemerinsky opened last week to glowing acclaim (perhaps free tuition helps?); the city council is meeting tonight to rename the town Ervine.)

And therein lies the concern. Because, although fundraising is clearly a critical sport, it is not a substitute for the soul of a law school. 

Brian Leiter, the leading authority on U.S. law schools, was also impressed We never want to cross Leiter, who teaches at Chicago now. So we’ll just add our two cents and a wish for the best of luck to Schill to succeed where so many of his recent predecessors have come up short.


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