Feb. 5, 2014 – University of Houston Law Center Interim Dean Richard M. Alderman updated students on “what’s going on” at the school and answered questions Wednesday during a “Discussion with the Dean” session.
His opening remarks dealt with issues of greatest importance to students: the search for a new dean, tuition and financial aid, building improvements, the job market, and how they can help themselves and the school.
He outlined the process of searching for a new dean, beginning with hiring an outside consultant, establishing a search committee, compiling a list of candidates, conducting airport interviews and narrowing the list to finalists, a faculty vote and eventual job offer by the university president. Alderman said he is hopeful the process can be completed by the end of March, but said he is willing to stay on as interim dean if it takes longer. He said more than 50 law schools nationwide are looking for new deans, and noted that the economy, changes in the legal marketplace, and resulting, difficult adjustments in law schools is making some would-be deans reconsider.
On the financial front, Alderman said there will not be a tuition increase next year and detailed several initiatives the school offers to help students meet expenses. Though tuition at the Law Center is among the lowest in the state, he said, other schools are able to recruit students with the lure of bigger scholarships. “We have added to our scholarship pot,” he said. “We spent $1 million more this year over last for some form of financial assistance,” but more must be done. In addition, the school has increased the number of fellowships, created more jobs for students at the Law Center, initiated an internship partnership with smaller firms in which the school pays for half of the student’s salary, and offers two fulltime, postgraduate fellowships with the hope of increasing it to five.
The dean commented on two perennial issues – the building and parking. He noted the Law Center began seeking funds for new facilities long before the new stadium was approved, and has had to make do with renovations. More updating is planned including bathrooms, classroom configurations and podiums, and possibly renovation of one more classroom. On the issue of parking, he said, the combination of a smaller entering class size, scheduling adjustments, and additional spaces, seems to have alleviated the problem.
Alderman stressed the importance of student feedback in the form of semester evaluations of professors and courses as a means of improving the school. The consequences of not responding, he told the students, is bad professors and courses that don’t fit their needs or interests. “We want you to be as “practice ready” as possible when you graduate,” he said. With applications down and competition among schools greater than ever to attract top applicants, Alderman urged students to serve as ambassadors for the school, talking to potential applicants about the quality of the Law Center and value of a law degree.
Answering questions from the audience, Alderman said the fall “Telefund” was not as successful as he hoped. He added that he is “somewhat optimistic” that it or some other form of student-supported fundraising will work at some point. “We are open to suggestions,” he said. “It’s clear we have to raise much more money” to support student organizations and other student services. On the issue of debt counseling, he said the school will be sponsoring a seminar on minimizing and dealing with student loans.
The dean also stressed the importance of networking while in school. “Do everything you can to develop relationships with everyone you can,” he said. “It’s invaluable.” He suggested attending as many functions as possible, even if the event does not involve practitioners in a specific field of interest. The contacts could prove helpful in the future, he said.
“It’s a new world,” Alderman summed up, referring to the law school and job markets. “It’s not something I would have been talking about five years ago. Everything has changed, and we have to adjust.”