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Dean's Desk: Indianapolis law school enters new era

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deans-desk-robertsI am sure that almost everyone reading this will have heard about the transformative gift to the Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis that, along with matching money, will increase the school’s effective endowment by $31.5 million. As a result, the school has been renamed the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law for the benefactor of this magnificent philanthropic investment.

As I said at the Dec. 1, 2011, event announcing our new name, one’s good name is a person’s most valuable possession, and Bob McKinney’s name is one of the best. Bob has spent a lifetime in selfless and generous service to his country and his community as a naval officer, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, a name partner and practicing lawyer at Bose McKinney & Evans and as the chairman and CEO of First Indiana Bank. He is loved, admired and respected by all who know him and by legions of people whose lives he has enriched. Having his name on our law school is like gold in the bank. Everyone connected to the school should forever be especially proud to be associated with an institution bearing the name of Robert H. McKinney.

Bob’s great gift will do so much for the school that it is hard to explain it in a brief column. The money, of course, will go into the endowment as it is received and, first, will establish five endowed chairs in the areas of intellectual property, tax, environmental law, technology and law, and health law. This will enable the school to recruit five renowned senior-level faculty whose presence will greatly enhance both the quality of teaching and research as well as our national reputation. After these chairs are established, the remaining $17.5 million will go into an account that will generate scholarship dollars enabling the school to recruit increasing numbers of very top law school applicants and to hold down the spiraling cost of legal education (and thus the debt burden) for many of our graduates. Thus, the gift goes a long way to helping us achieve the first two goals of our 2009 Strategic Plan – enhancing and supporting the faculty and providing financial support for our students.

But the gift does far more than simply provide a financial boost. First, as noted above, it gives the school a name that is widely respected throughout Indiana. And in the process, it rebrands the school in a way that enhances its image across the nation and the world. Throughout higher education, universities, campuses and schools that have a hyphen followed by a city in their names are often assumed by the unfamiliar as being branch or regional in nature, but not first rate. While that is not always accurate or fair, it is a reality that saddles many fine institutions with a tarnished image. By dropping “– Indianapolis” from our name, and by becoming one of only 15 law schools in the United States named after a major benefactor who believed the school worthy of bearing his name and of such an enormous investment, the school has been rebranded with a golden identity that will increase its reputation and rankings significantly.

Furthermore, this gift will provide critical impetus for greatly increasing support from others upon whom the school depends. Bob McKinney’s gift, while wonderful, will not by itself take the school to where it can and should be, namely among the nation’s most elite public law schools. Bob recognized this himself and has challenged the alumni and others to step up.

The fact is that our school has historically received relatively little philanthropic support. A small percentage of our alumni has given back to the school. And what at most law schools would be thought of as nice but modest has here been regarded as a major gift. No more! Bob McKinney has set a new tone and new standard. Just in the weeks since his gift was announced, we have received several large gifts, are having serious conversations with many others about possible six- and seven-figure gifts and the number of annual fund gifts has started a meaningful uptick. So Bob’s gift will enable the school to leverage the excitement and pride it has generated and to increase the level of overall support, both financial and otherwise, to new heights and the school to new levels of excellence.

This is all truly fantastic news for the law school that provides the state of Indiana with half of its lawyers, about 40 percent of its judges and a large percentage of its business, non-profit, government and political leadership. There is little doubt that the quality of the graduates of our law school, and the quality of the education they receive here, will directly correlate with the quality of leadership and, in turn, the quality of life for all Hoosiers. Bob McKinney has created a momentum that will truly make Indiana a better place for everyone.•
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Gary R. Roberts
has been dean of the Robert H. McKinney School of Law since 2007. The opinions expressed are the author’s.

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