Reflecting on Forty Years at Carolina Law: A Conversation Between Two Deans

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This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Carolina Law.
John Charles “Jack” Boger entered UNC School of Law in 1971, graduating in 1974 at a time when in-state tuition was $420 a year and out-of-state tuition $1,145 a year. He returned to join the law faculty in 1990. He served as Dean Judith Wegner’s associate dean for academic affairs from 1995 to 1998 and served as dean from 2006 to 2015 before returning to the classroom. He retires July 1. Judith Wegner joined the law school faculty in fall 1981. She was Dean Kenneth S. Broun’s associate dean for academic affairs from 1986 to 1988 and then served as dean from 1989 to 1999. She retired in December. Wegner and Boger were asked to offer reflections on the changes in the law school that they have witnessed over this 46-year time span.


BOTH: Carolina Law students are what makes the school great. They inspire faculty and staff every day. They arrive in Chapel Hill from every corner of the state and beyond. Some are the first in their families to attend college; others have served in Afghanistan, Iraq or other theaters of national defense; still others arrive following graduate work, often in engineering or scientific fields. Their diversity extends to their post-law school aspirations as well. Some hope to enter private practice in small towns, others in major urban settings. Others are drawn to become prosecutors or defense attorneys, to work with Legal Aid, to join the EPA, the SEC, or work internationally or with immigrants and refugees. Carolina Law’s public mission shines clearly in the rich tapestry of backgrounds and hopes that these bright young students bring with them. They regularly renew our hope for the future of our state and nation.


JACK: The experience of law students has changed substantially since I was a student. A Carolina Law education in the early 1970s was confined largely to the classroom, the law library, and for some, law review or moot court. Today’s far broader set of curricular and co-curricular offerings grew during the deanships of Ken Broun, Judith Wegner and Gene Nichol. They have given present students literally dozens of extra-curricular avenues through which to explore different aspects of the law.

JUDITH: I think we both tried very hard to build a stronger sense of community that would connect students, faculty, staff and alumni throughout our years here.


JUDITH: The major building expansion to Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, completed in the fall of 1999, was directly focused on trying to change the student experience. We tried to incorporate significant space for students to engage comfortably with each other, including a central rotunda and dedicated study space nearby. We brought in more light and made a commitment to adding public art to the building that reflected North Carolina.

JACK: The building expansion Judith successfully fought for gave us more space to add faculty and vastly improved the space for our clinical programs. As Judith noted, it also changed the climate for students, providing them with welcoming additional places to study, meet and interface, and hold community gatherings. It has encouraged a student sense of involvement with the school.


JACK: Curriculum changes in the past half century have been many and consequential. Carolina Law’s first-year classes in 2017 still emphasize the traditional building blocks of legal knowledge– civil procedure, contracts, criminal law, property and torts – but each has now ‘shrunk’ to four semesterhours to make room for constitutional law. More recently, Carolina Law has created a much-enhanced program in writing, research and advocacy. Students learn to draft legal memos, contracts, client letters and litigation documents and present their first mock appellate argument. The program was ranked 18th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in March of 2017. Beyond the first year, Carolina Law now offers 20-25 ‘transition-to-practice’ courses; faculty members have revised their Socratic and lecture-format approaches to show students how practicing lawyers work. They offer students concrete opportunities to apply newly minted legal ideas to real-world or simulated settings. Judith led the faculty committee that put us well ahead of the pack in developing these new practiceoriented courses. We’ve also added to the diversity of clientfocused legal clinics (now seven in number), and we provide more than 110 semester-long externship opportunities in which law students work for corporate, governmental or non-profit attorneys, for credit with faculty supervision.

JUDITH: I am grateful that we also kept some good things that we were already doing, such as maintaining our first-year small sections. During my time as dean, we also made a commitment to reducing class sizes for professional responsibility and strongly urged students to take that course in the second year rather than the third. We also made a commitment to an improved legal writing program that integrated academic support services very closely, a model that was well ahead of what was happening nationally.


JACK: I was blessed as dean in 2006 to receive substantial new financial resources from the University and General Assembly that allowed us to increase the school’s faculty size by nearly 50 percent, up from 40+ to more than 60. We also encouraged faculty excellence by sponsoring four annual faculty awards for scholarship, teaching and service, providing an endowment fund for faculty archival and empirical research, and substantially increasing faculty research funds. Carolina Law drew other outstanding faculty members by creating ‘centers’ with strong cross-disciplinary dimensions linking the law school with other parts of campus.

JUDITH: It is such a pleasure to have wonderful junior and mid-level colleagues, as well as others who have risen to senior ranks in the last few years. Both of us have observed how good it is to retire at a time when we have colleagues who are outstanding, cutting-edge scholars with national and international reputations and are also deeply committed to excellent teaching and the public mission of this great school. While we have much further to go, our faculty has slowly grown increasingly diverse.

JACK: We also experienced growth in the size of our administrative staff to meet the new demands of our changing world. There simply were no ‘information technology’ staffers in the 1980s or 1990s; today it would be impossible to get through 24 hours without their skills. We’ve increased our student services office to help guide the 50+ student organizations and provide personal support, and we’ve tripled the size of our career development office to assist graduating students in navigating the extremely competitive and complex placement environment. The role of the law library has also changed radically. The J.D.-trained law librarians now offer upper-level research courses to our students, training them in how to navigate the complex multimedia environment that characterizes law practice and research in 2017. Law school finance and budgeting have also demanded more staff, and the school has acted on the need for a larger development staff to encourage private giving during a time of diminished state support.


JUDITH: I came to UNC early in Ken Broun’s deanship and was always struck by his commitment to connect the faculty with our alumni. I remember going to the yearly alumni banquet and meeting two older women. It turned out that one was N.C. Chief Justice Susie Sharp ’29 and the other was N.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Naomi “Peanut” Morris ’55. And that was just the start. I have many great memories of others whose kindness shaped me. When I interviewed at UNC, I attended a panel featuring three women legislators, Helen Marvin, Bertha “B.” Merrill Holt ’41, and Trish Hunt, who spoke about the need to reform state property laws. B. watched over and helped me repeatedly over the years, as she and her husband Clary took me to a Monday night session of the legislature, along with Gladys Coates, so I could meet people. She also got us our first $1 million toward the building addition!

JACK: Reuniting with former classmates now in practice throughout North Carolina and the nation, and meeting the remarkable network of Carolina Law alumni were among my most enjoyable experiences as dean. So many are warmly devoted to Carolina, and their legal practices and public service are astonishing. Like Judith, I was blessed with the help of Law Alumni Association and Law Foundation leaders who spurred an increase in alumni involvement in the school’s education and co-curricular activities. Alumni were stalwarts in supporting our students during the Great Recession, offering them extra summer associate opportunities and supporting additional funds for scholarships to underwrite summer work opportunities that helped sustain students during those difficult years.

JUDITH: Another great pleasure for me was to help birth a yearly sign of committed service from the law school to the practicing bar. In 1990, Professor Donald Clifford proposed to create the UNC Festival of Legal Learning CLE program. Toward the end of Don’s tenure on the faculty, I took over as program director and served as impresario until Mary-Rose Papandrea took on that role when I retired. The program has expanded to now offer a selection of 120 topics with more than 100 presenters. It’s been such a joyous occasion to showcase the fine work of our faculty and esteemed colleagues from practice in offering some of the best CLE programming in the country.

JACK: Carolina Law, Bill Aycock ’48 once observed, does far more than seems possible with far less than seems sufficient. We have managed to recruit and retain nationally recognized faculty despite tuition levels far, far below those of our scholarly peers. We’ve also continued to draw an academically outstanding student body despite significantly lower scholarship aid than many of our peers offer. We have been determined to keep tuition low because of our commitment to remain a ‘truly public’ law school, so we have had to make up the difference largely through generous alumni support.

BOTH: We will miss the school enormously. We’ve devoted major, gratifying parts of our lives to its service, and in return, it has offered gifts surpassing our deserving. Like many before us, we have willingly embraced the school’s values – excellence, imagination, devotion to the public good and a commitment for human decency – that seem to flow like water from the Old Well. Our confidence in the school’s future is boundless. With a venerable mission, strong leadership, an outstanding faculty and staff, and bright, aspiring young students, the future seems full of lux et libertas indeed.

-June 12, 2017

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