This story broke during the holidays, but is worth examining after the fact, because UC Irvine’s new law school is planning to offer free tuition to students entering in the Fall of 2009 — which will be its inaugural class.
This is a bold and smart move for a program with ambitious goals. The dean of the law school, Erwin Chemerinsky, has stated that the school’s goal is to be “a top-20 law school from the first time we are ranked.” This is part of a multi-pronged attack to hit the ground running and instantly be part of the country’s elite programs.
Part A was to bring in Chemerinsky, a noted constitutional law scholar famous for his BarBri lectures and advanced work done at the law schools of both USC and Duke. This step hit a few rough patches when Chemerinsky was fired and then re-hired. All of the gritty speculation over the original firing can be found here. Now that he is back in the fold, however, it seems that Irvine has tapped the right person to usher in the rest of their far-reaching strategy.
Part B focused on faculty, which is obviously a key in driving student interest, peer evaluations, and, ultimately, rankings (and, presumably, educational quality, although no one ever seems to mention this part). This blog has spent countless posts dissecting the faculty migration patterns and how they have affected schools like Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago. Suffice to say, luring top professors is paramount when piecing together an aggressive launch or expansion. Irvine has been able to snag a variety of well-respected academics such as Rachel Moran from Berkeley and Carrie Menkel-Meadow from Georgetown.
Finally, there is Part C. This is where the law school has to make a big splash to win the hearts and minds of top applicants and sure enough, that is what Irvine has done by offering free tuition (for all three years) for the approximately 60 members of its first class. This financial incentive — coupled with big name faculty members and talk of top-20 rankings — should be enough to convince at least that many top tier applicants to eschew the traditional powers and give the new guy a shot. And with the inevitable rankings win that would follow such a haul, Irvine is positioned to pull a rabbit out of its hat and actually meet the goal of being ranked in the top 20 from the very first time it is ranked.
At the very least, Irvine offers another interesting option for law school candidates, who are surely tired of hearing about increased applicant numbers and talk of waitlists and rejection letters.
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