Georgetown University Law Center Faculty Luncheon

Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Georgetown University Law Center
March 27, 2013

Thank you, Bill, and good afternoon. It’s a privilege to be here today, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to speak with you all.

I’d like to introduce you to our new general counsel, Lisa Brown, who graciously agreed to join us today. Given her distinguished public service, I know she is known to many of you. It is a privilege to welcome her into our community.

I’d like to begin today by expressing my appreciation and sincere congratulations to many members of our community on several recent accomplishments, all of which reflect the exceptional work and dedication of each of you:

  • First, I wish to congratulate Dean Treanor on an honor he received in December when he was named one of the 25 most influential people in legal education by National Jurist.
  • David Cole was recently named the first recipient of the ACLU’s Norman Dorsen Presidential Prize—congratulations to him on this honor.
  • I’d like to also congratulate Wally Mlyniec on receiving the Faculty Recognition Award from the Georgetown Alumni Association.
  • Congratulations to Jane Aiken for being awarded the 2013 Legal Teaching Award by the NYU Law Alumni Association.
  • Congratulations to all of you—too many to name here—on the publication of so many exceptional books and scholarly articles.
  • And finally, I would like to recognize the accomplishments of some of our third-year students, who just this January won the Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship. I’m deeply appreciative of all the members of our community whose work and dedication helped our students to succeed in this endeavor…

With all of the transitions, it has been a few years since I’ve had a chance to be with you. I am very pleased to be here today.

We meet at an extraordinary time—a time of uncertainty and disruption. I have spoken regularly to our university community in Town Halls and Convocations on our efforts to respond to the challenges of our time. Higher education, and for these reflections today, legal education, and the legal economy have been buffeted by many forces. At Georgetown, within this context, we have been working hard to identify opportunities for our University—opportunities for innovation, leadership, and the strengthening of our mission—amidst this uncertainty.

I’d like to take some time today to talk about the general nature of this new environment…and I’d like to offer some reflections on some of the steps we are taking to best position Georgetown as a whole—and the Law Center in particular—to navigate these challenges and opportunities.

At the heart of this work is the belief that in providing a strong university-wide context—by focusing on our fundamentals—each part of our community will be best supported to do its very best work. Our fundamentals remain as they have always been:

  • Attracting the brightest students, and supporting them as they pursue excellence;
  • Recruiting and supporting the very best faculty in what is an extremely competitive market; and
  • Providing the infrastructure necessary for both our students and faculty to thrive and succeed.
    I’d like to say a few words about our approach to this work, but first I think it's important to look at the general context of higher education and legal education.

Context: Higher Education and Legal Education

On January 16th, Moody’s issued a report on US higher education and revised its outlook for the entire sector from stable to negative.

At the core of this downgrade were several key factors:

  • First, the weakened ability of the average American family to pay the cost of attending a university or college. The drop in the median family income in recent years has been dramatic, and universities have had to adapt to ensure access.
  • Second, growth and operating revenues continue to slow for the entire sector.
  • And third, the reduction in federal support for our research and operations.

These three dynamics have a potentially very profound effect on key revenue sources for universities, and all schools are figuring out how to adapt. I know I don’t need to go into the details of the impact on legal education:

  • The historic drop in applications from about 100,000 in 2004 to nearly half that expected this year (54,000)1;
  • Concern over rising tuition;
  • The burden of student debt, with the average private law school graduate borrowing $125,0002; and
  • Diminished employment prospects for graduates.

Our Response

As a result of these conditions, we begin by confronting questions of expense and revenue models, of how we deliver the best education, and how we support our students to thrive both here at the Law Center and out in the job market. I say “begin” because I recognize that there are profound questions that shape this moment for legal education.

I have been reading Robin West’s new manuscript; I am aware of the recommendations that emerged a few years ago from the Carnegie Report; I know that Brian Tamanaha spent some time here this winter; I know a number of our peer institutions are exploring some radical alternatives to the current model for legal education.

I believe the questions that Robin and Professor Tamanaha raise; the work that Mitt Regan is coordinating here; the perspectives of the authors of the Carnegie Report—all deserve our attention as we work our way through the challenges of this moment.

There are urgent and fundamental questions regarding the very idea of legal education—our purpose and our place—work that will require the most thoughtful engagement of our faculty. In order to ensure we can engage in this work, we need to ensure we have time for this reflection, as well as the time and resources to manage the transitions that will be required. So we begin with our financial model.

Bill and our senior leadership team here, with our colleagues at the University, as well as our Board of Directors, have been engaged, first, in understanding our new environment…and then, how to best adapt to it.

We don’t know what the future will hold—whether we are coping with a cyclical or structural change to our basic model. What we do know is that it is necessary in the midst of this uncertainty to focus on ensuring a strong foundation, built on a core set of fundamentals.

Bill and I have been meeting regularly and just yesterday we discussed the importance of sustaining a focus on three key indicators of performance:

  • Admissions,
  • Scholarship support,
  • Job placement and our employment rate.

These are, of course, also important factors in the US News & World Report (USNWR) rankings. A key focus remains for us maintaining our place in the top 14. We cannot underestimate the importance of sustaining this position.  I’d like to say just a few words about each of these areas, and then we’ll have plenty of time for questions on any issues of the day.

Admissions

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to Andy Cornblatt for his continuing exceptional service to Georgetown. I met with Andy and Bill just two weeks ago. I have slept much more soundly since our meeting because even in this moment of ever declining applications, we are cautiously optimistic that we will bring in another outstanding entering class—projecting an average LSAT score of 168.  Andy, Bill and I plan to meet again in early May to see where we are then.

I appreciate how seriously you are all engaging the issues at stake here, including perhaps the most significant one—the size of the class. I know Bill has appointed a group to look to the future and explore the questions of class size. I can imagine potential implications of a reduction in class size. I am grateful you are willing to engage this question.

Scholarship Support

The second fundamental on which we are focusing is ensuring access and affordability for our students. We remain committed to the belief that by ensuring the very best students can come to Georgetown, we are investing in the academic excellence and vibrancy of our University. An essential component of that support is of course financial aid.

I know you are aware that our underlying fundamentals here are not strong. We have probably achieved the greatest return on our investment among our peer institutions. Compared to our peers, we have been able to recruit outstanding students without a commensurable level of investment in scholarship support. There are two important metrics here: (1) the percentage of our students on financial aid; and (2) our “discount rate.”

Approximately a third of our students receive scholarship support, compared to a peer group that will be double. Our discount rate—in the 15% range is the lowest of our peers. As we look to the future, a crucial question we must engage is how we manage growth in scholarship support.

Job Placement/Employment

Finally a word about a third fundamental—jobs.

For reasons that I know you are much more familiar with than me—this is a much contested issue in legal education. With the latest rankings last week, USNWR provided a new definition of the standard we are to use—“full-time, permanent positions, requiring passing of the Bar, or JD preferred, within 12 months of commencement….” I think I have that right!

With this definition, we stand this year at 71% employment—as Bill shared with me yesterday, with a few very modest adjustments, we will likely be in the mid-80’s for next year’s report.

I think most believe that there is more than a correlation between declining job prospects and declining admissions, but it is too early to tell with certainty. I know how seriously many of you are engaged in addressing this issue.

Let me stop here. I’d like to ensure we have time for discussion. I could go on and focus on the two other areas I mentioned—faculty and infrastructure. And if you have questions on either, I’d be happy to address them. But at this present moment, the most immediate issue we face is the long-range projection of student interest in legal education, and so I have focused my remarks there.

As I said as the start of my remarks, this is an extraordinary moment. We are encountering significant changes and challenges in both higher education and legal education. But we believe that by engaging the most important questions that are emerging in this moment and by focusing on the fundamentals, we are positioning the University—and the Law Center—to navigate this new era with success. We need to ensure we have the necessary foundation to continue to sustain and advance our commitment to academic excellence—including to remain in the T-14…to find the right balance between our responsibilities to the Academy and our responsibilities to the profession.

I’d like to end by expressing my gratitude to each of you, for all you do—for your dedication to our students…your contributions to your field—all of which make the Law Center one of the very best law schools in our nation.
Thank you again for welcoming me here today, and now I’d like to take any questions you might have…


1 Ethan Bronner, “Law Schools’ Applications Fall as Costs Rise and Jobs Are Cut,” New York Times, 30 January 2013 <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/education/law-schools-applications-fall-as-costs-rise-and-jobs-are-cut.html?_r=1&>.

2 Jordan Weissmann, "Law School Applications Are Collapsing (as They Should Be)," The Atlantic, 31 January 2013 <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/01/law-school-applications-are-collapsing-as-they-should-be/272729/>.