Movement to overhaul the first-year curriculum was afoot by the early 1980s. In 1984, the late Professor Curtis Berger was appointed by Dean Benno Schmidt to chair a committee on curricular reform. It was, in Prof. Berger's opinion, sorely needed.
"While the substance of Contracts and Torts has changed greatly over time, the basic battery of required courses is still in place, despite radical changes in the legal world," he told The Observer in 1988.
An 11-member committee was formed, consisting of the dean, faculty, and students. After 2 years, a draft was submitted that presented specific plans for what was called the Foundation Curriculum for first-year students. After review by the faculty, now under the deanship of Barbara Aronstein Black '55, the Foundation Curriculum was approved and began with the 1989 entering class.
Barbara Aronstein Black
The Foundation Curriculum focused on areas of instruction that were deemed necessary to train lawyers for the last decade of the 20th century and beyond. An economic element was infused into the curriculum to recognize and to take advantage of the growing body of scholarship and law that applied economic analysis to legal issues. A new course, Perspectives on Legal Thought, was created to give students a background in significant movements in modern legal thinking.
Also new was Foundations of the Regulatory State. Committee member Professor John Coffee put the reasoning behind its creation most convincingly: "The world our graduates live in is a world of complex regulatory systems. It's a world of the SEC, banking agencies, the environmental or antitrust regulators. It's not the simple world we teach in first year law school, where the problems are buying or selling a cow, or the liability of an owner when a spring gun goes off."
To make room for these changes, fewer hours were dedicated to Contracts, Civil Procedure, and Legal Method. In addition, Constitutional Law, a two-semester, six-credit-hour course, was reduced to a one-semester, four-hour course.
Prof. Berger had no regrets about the five years needed to make the significant change. Throughout the process, he advised his colleagues to "proceed gradually. Delight in the venture, as with a fine wine."