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Chemerinsky Named Law Dean at Berkeley: What Are His Priorities?

Constitutional law expert and educator Erwin Chemerinsky will be the new dean at UC Berkeley School of Law, taking on economic challenges that have impacted law schools everywhere and hoping to leave behind a sexual harassment controversy that had tarnished the storied educational institution.

Chermerinsky, who is currently dean of UC Irvine School of Law, brings with him the experience of launching that law school nine years ago. He is a career educator, having taught at several law schools, including Duke and USC, and having published 10 books and hundreds of law review articles.

"We must do all we can to serve our students and prepare them to practice law at the highest level of the profession," he said in a press release. "Berkeley should aspire to be one of the top five law schools in the country, by any and every measure."

Economic Challenges, Top Priorities

Economic pressures have contributed to falling enrollments at law schools across the country, including California where deans have scrambled to attract students. Concerned that law graduates faced the additional challenge of a notoriously difficult bar exam, 20 deans asked the state Supreme Court to lower cut scores on the test.

At Berkeley, Chemerinsky said his top priority will be fundraising -- including revenue-generating programs. He plans to engage the community through town hall meetings, student get-togethers, and faculty meetings.

Chemerinsky, who was the first member of his family to attend college, said he also wants to make law school accessible to those who can't afford it. To help kick-start Irvine School of Law, he offered three years' free tuition to the first entering class.

"I care deeply about the public mission of the law school and the public service it provides through its clinical and pro bono programs," he said. "My goal as dean is to maintain the school's excellence--be it in intellectual property, social justice or business law--and look for every opportunity I can to enhance it."

Harassment Challenges

Berkeley is still reeling from a scandal involving the former dean, Sujit Choudhry. The university recently announced it had settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against the former dean, who allegedly hugged, kissed and touched his assistant without consent.

The lawsuit was part of a problem that reportedly had troubled the school for years, as other employees have complained about sexual harassment there since 2015. Chemerinsky is aware of the issue and said one of his challenges will be to create a better environment.

"I think one of the responsibilities of a dean is to create a warm and inclusive community, where all members feel welcome and can thrive," he said.

He will begin his new job on July 1.

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