James Milligan, Dean of Admissions (1948 - 2005)

A gathering in memory of Dean James Milligan

Monday, January 31, 2005
3:00 p.m.
St. Paul's Chapel
Columbia University Campus

Reception (immediately following the service)
4:00 p.m.
Law School Drapkin Lounge
Third floor, Jerome Greene Hall

[email protected]

Gifts in memory of Dean Milligan may be sent to:

Columbia Law School
attn: Mendy Munson
435 West 116th Street, Box A-2
New York, NY 10027
(212) 854-1378

[We hope to create an endowed scholarship fund in Dean Milligan's name.]

Dean James Milligan


Jim Milligan, who oversaw the LawSchool's Admissions Office for nearly a quarter of a century, died on January 7.  He was 56.


"Jim was an integral part of our community for twenty-five years," said Dean David Schizer. "He viewed our students as his children, remembering details about their files for decades after they graduated. He was a wonderfully talented admissions professional, and a loyal and dear friend."


Jim was born in Boston on August  28, 1948.  The son of an office machine technician and an office manager who both worked at Sears, Jim attended CatholicMemorialHigh School and received an A.B. at College of the Holy Cross, with a concentration in English literature and the Classics.  After graduating in 1970, he became coordinator of residential life in the Office of Student Affairs at the University of Connecticut.  Three years later, after earning an M.A. in education at the university, he moved to New York to become the assistant director of financial aid at Teachers College, where he met his wife, Karen Blank.  He began work on his Ed.D.; his dissertation, titled "Institutional Image and its Effect Upon Choice of College by Secondary Students," was an early nod to his eventual success in bringing the best of prospective students to MorningsideHeights. 


Jim got his first taste of ColumbiaLawSchool when he served as an administrative intern in the Admissions Office in 1976-77 under Frank Walwer '55 and John Kullberg.   In the words of his colleagues, Jim was "smitten by the admissions bug."  For the next three years, he honed his skills as associate director of admissions at HampshireCollege, before being named the LawSchool's assistant dean and director of admissions in 1980.


Jim and his colleagues oversaw and guided changes that greatly diversified ColumbiaLawSchool's student body.  In 1980, for example, women comprised 32 percent of the LawSchool's entering class.  The figure rose to 45 percent by 1987 and, in 2003, to 52 percent, the first time women outnumbered men.  The Admissions Office also oversaw a significant rise in the numbers of minority and international students. 


During Jim's watch, the number of applications to Columbia also increased.  In 2003-04, Jim and his staff received more than 8,350 applications, which were whittled down to 375 places.  Jim himself read a sizeable portion of all applications and, before the semester began, perused files of all enrolled students to reorient himself with the new crop of first-years.


"When I came for an interview with Dean Milligan, I was nervous about my senior year of college, when I'd taken more "artsy"electives such as art history, music appreciation, and a film class," recalls novelist Brad Meltzer ‘96. "During the interview, he asked me about D. W. Griffith's controversial film The Birth of a Nation.  It caught me completely off guard.  We talked about the film, its controversy, and its impact.  As I left his office, I realized Dean Milligan  was testing me to see whether I had taken the film course seriously, or just considered it a blow-off class with a lot of Woody Allen movies.


"Still, I thought I'd blown the interview.  I'd spent an hour talking about film and my own writing when I should've been talking about law!  A friend who was a CLS student told me, ‘Columbia gets enough students who'll be lawyers. They also want a well-rounded student body.'  A few weeks later, I got my acceptance letter, hand-signed by Dean Milligan."


Outside the LawSchool, Jim served as a trustee of the Law School Admissions Council and on many of its committees.   He also served as chairman of Columbia's Community Impact, which coordinates volunteer social service by students and others in the Columbia community.  In the last few years of his life, he was discovering new interests in photography, cooking, and requiems.


He is survived by his wife, Karen J. Blank, dean of studies at BarnardCollege; a son, Ned, a recent graduate of ColumbiaCollege; a sister, Barbara; and dozens and dozens of relatives, friends, and colleagues.