From the Dean

Stewards of Freedom in Every Generation

By David M. Schizer

Spring 2014

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On May 1, Columbia Law School held a dinner at the American Museum of Natural History celebrating David M. Schizer’s service as dean. These are his remarks from that occasion.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed so quickly. We all know that I was pretty young when I began my service as dean. Not long ago, an Israeli friend mentioned that there was a running joke about me there just after I had been appointed: The joke was that I had been given the deanship as a Bar Mitzvah present. I was sorry he couldn’t be here tonight, since this party feels a bit like a Bar Mitzvah to me.

And this is the perfect place for it. Two of my children are here tonight. They can tell you that my family loves the American Museum of Natural History. We call it the “Whale Museum,” and I am grateful to the Whale Museum’s president, Ellen Futter, Class of 1974, for hosting us here tonight. I also want to thank Sonja Carter, Daria Sidlauskas, Lynn Beller, and the rest of our talented team for all their work in arranging this wonderful evening.

One of the things I love in this museum is the statue of Theodore Roosevelt, Class of 1882. Roosevelt once said that “[f]ar and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing . . . .” That’s the way I feel about our work together for the Law School. Roosevelt also believed in pursuing lofty goals in pragmatic ways. As he put it, “Keep your eyes on the stars but remember to keep your feet on the ground.” Those words also help to sum up the past 10 years for me.

Columbia Law School stands for something precious and rare in the world: freedom under law. We believe that a wise and just legal system makes the world better, translating our highest ideals into the flesh and blood of working institutions. Our School is indispensable to this effort. We advance the state of knowledge about law, and train new generations of stewards for the rule of law. Learned Hand said that “[l]iberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.” Columbia Law School has put liberty in the hearts and minds of thousands of leaders of the bar throughout the world.

This is a timeless mission, since we need these stewards of freedom in every generation. Edmund Burke famously said that “[s]ociety is a contract between the past, the present, and those yet unborn.” The same is true of a great law school. Our reputation and influence today depend on the good work of past generations of faculty and students. In the same way, our community’s successes today define the contribution we can make tomorrow.

Columbia Law School is fortunate, since it has been a great law school for 156 years. Ten years ago, I inherited an institution that was thriving. I owe a lot to the 13 deans who came before me. I especially want to thank my immediate predecessor, David Leebron, who brought me onto the faculty and has always been a mentor and friend. I really appreciate that David is here tonight.

Like the deans who came before me, my goal was to pass on an even stronger institution to the next dean, Gillian Lester. I am very proud of what we’ve achieved in the past 10 years. We’ve hired a record number of faculty (43 so far), including distinguished senior faculty and the strongest cohort of young faculty of any law school in the world. We’ve added a floor to Jerome Greene Hall to house these new hires. This expanded faculty has given us the lowest student-faculty ratio in the School’s history, while also enabling us to launch a host of new initiatives to enrich our curriculum. We’ve also significantly strengthened the School’s support for public interest programs.

To do all of this, we’ve transformed the School’s fundraising, raising $353 million in our capital campaign. In seven of the past 10 years, we raised more than twice what the School used to raise before I became dean, engaging a host of new donors who had not supported the School before. We’ve achieved all of this during turbulent times, while also ensuring that a student who graduated in 2009 had the same professional opportunities as someone who graduated in 1999.

Many people deserve credit for these successes. Ten years is a long time to be dean. Some of you know that I’m the longest-serving dean since 1971, and the first to be governed by the 10-year term limit enacted by the faculty then. Serving longer means depending on more people. I’ve had the privilege of working with 10 Vice Deans, 10 appointments committee chairs, an outstanding (and growing) faculty (which now is 93 people), a dedicated team of nearly 200 administrators, an extraordinary group of alumni leaders, and a community of talented deans and administrators at the University.

Many are here tonight, and our School’s successes in the past decade depended on your talent and commitment. I wish it were possible to thank all of you individually, but we would be here all night. Instead, I will briefly mention four people. The first is Gerry Lenfest. I am profoundly grateful to Gerry for his wise counsel and steadfast friendship. Gerry’s commitment to our Law School is truly inspiring. Second, we all owe a great deal to Ed Moroni, our head of administration and finance. In his understated way, Ed works tirelessly to make sure the School runs well. His problem-solving skills add enormous value to the School. Third, I was very fortunate to have Bruno Santonocito as our head of development for seven of the past 10 years. He brought such creativity and excellent judgment to our work, and rallied our colleagues with his warmth and good cheer. 

Finally, I’ve left the most important person for last: my wife and best friend, Meredith Schizer. It’s been an exciting and fulfilling 10 years, but it has not always been easy. I’ve relied heavily on Meredith’s advice and unfailing support, and also on her tireless devotion to our three children. I could never have done what I’ve done in the past 10 years without Meredith.

By the way, some of you have asked what we are doing to celebrate when I finish my service as dean. The answer is, “We are going to Disney World.” Can you picture the TV commercial? “You’ve just completed your term as dean of Columbia Law School. What are you going to do now? . . .”

But as much as I look forward to that, it’s hard to think that anything can top this wonderful evening. Thank you for joining me tonight, and for your support and friendship over the past 10 years.

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Meredith Wolf Schizer and David M. Schizer