One of Erwin Chemerinsky’s jobs as dean of UC Irvine’s new law school will be to create a reputation for legal scholarship for the school. But it’s his other job — chief fundraiser — that will either make or break the fledgling school.
Chemerinsky’s challenge — raising tens of millions of dollars to open the school in 2009, erect buildings and fund an endowment — comes at a time of unprecedented fundraising in higher education, and for law schools in particular.
Although the controversy over Chemerinsky’s recent hiring, firing and rehiring has raised questions about the leadership of UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, experts in philanthropy say it probably will have little or no effect on raising money.
“If they hadn’t rehired him, the school would have been finished . . . as far as academics is concerned,” said Brian Leiter, a professor of law and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin who blogs on issues affecting law schools. “If anything, the public at large now sees Erwin Chemerinsky as the greatest constitutional scholar of all time because he got so much good press. It might inspire donors.”
What will matter, experts say, is Chemerinsky’s lack of fundraising experience and the fact that UC Irvine’s law school has no alumni whose wallets it can tap.
UCI already has three such commitments. The foundation of Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren gave $20 million, which got him naming rights. The Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation and Newport Beach attorney Mark P. Robinson Jr. pledged $1 million each.
“What is different for our law school is that for most universities, fundraising depends a great deal on the alumni base,” Chemerinsky said..
Chemerinsky knows, however, that he will be the de facto development director as founding dean — a role he has never played before.
“I’m not very far along in conversations with donors,” he said. “I’m at Duke this year. I was committed to teach here before accepting the UC Irvine job.
“It’s hard to do that across the country,” Chemerinsky said. “Realistically, I’m not going to be able to be seriously involved in development until we get out there at the end of June. I so look forward to selling my dream to Orange County and Southern California.”
Chemerinsky said he is laying the groundwork for his fundraising effort by recruiting high-profile faculty who will inspire donors.
“We are talking to nine people seriously, all of them big names,” Chemerinsky said. “Our goal is to recruit a faculty equal to any top 10 or 20 law school.”
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Major donations — Source: UC Irvine
Gifts/pledges received by the UC Irvine Donald Bren School of Law as of Oct. 7.
$1 million-plus gifts/pledges
Bren Foundation: $20,000,000
Joan Irvine Smith & Athalie R. Clarke Foundation: $1,000,000
Mark Robinson: $1,000,000
Law firm pledges
Allen Matkins: $100,000
Anne Andrews: $100,000
Gibson Dunn: $100,000
Irell & Manella: $100,000
Jones Day Foundation: $100,000
Knobbe Martens: $100,000
Latham & Watkins: $100,000
Morrison & Foerster: $100,000
O’Melveny & Myers: $100,000
Payne & Fears: $100,000
Snell & Wilmer: $100,000
Winthrop Couchot: $25,000
Dorsey & Whitney: $17,500
Law Office of Michael Fields: $1,000
Norman H. Green: $100