Two Intstitutions One Vision

By Kristan Tetens, '86, M.A. '94

With the dedication of its new building, DCL/MSU is poised to become a national leader in legal education.

Calling the affiliation between Michigan State University and the Detroit College of Law "a bold new venture" that presents "a singular opportunity to help shape the changing face of American legal education well into the next century," former president Gerald Ford joined more than 2,500 guests in the Great Hall of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts in April to celebrate the dedication of the law school's new $28 million state-of-the-art building.

The Detroit College of Law is the oldest continuously operated independent law school in the nation, a highly respected private institution born in the city of Detroit in 1891. It is also a new institution on the campus of a great American center of higher education, Michigan State University. Recognizing this dual heritage, Ford urged the college's faculty and students to make the most of this unique moment in its history. He applauded the "visionary leadership" of the presidents and boards of both institutions and praised the affiliation as an innovative public/private partnership. "It's no exaggeration to say that at Michigan State University, breaking with tradition is a tradition," said Ford, prompting a standing ovation. "The new law school will combine the age-old pursuit of justice with some decidedly nontraditional fields and students."

Ford, who attended the University of Michigan and Yale Law School, received an honorary doctor of laws degree from DCL/MSU during the ceremony. It was the 84-year-old president's second visit to the MSU campus. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and House minority leader, he delivered the commencement address on March 14, 1965.

Also speaking at the event were Michigan governor John Engler, MSU president Peter McPherson, and DCL/MSU board president George N. Bashara, Jr. Joining them on the platform were MSU board president John D. Shingleton, who formally welcomed the law school to the university community; MSU and DCL/MSU trustees Dolores M. Cook, Bob Traxler, and Robert E. Weiss; MSU provost Lou Anna K. Simon; DCL/MSU dean Jeremy T. Harrison; DCL/MSU faculty representative Donald F. Campbell; and DCL/MSU student representative Jonathane Ricci. Distinguished members of the bench who were present included Conrad L. Mallet, Jr., chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court; Boyce F. Martin, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; Richard F. Suhrheinrich, associate judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit; and Marianne O. Battani, judge in the Third Judicial Circuit, Wayne County.

Following the Wharton Center ceremony and accompanied by a bagpiper and drummer, DCL/MSU students and faculty led a procession to the new building, where the festivities included tours, refreshments, and the opening of a time capsule that had been placed in the cornerstone of the college's Detroit home in 1937.

"We were delighted that President Ford was able to join us for this very special day that opened a new era for Michigan State," says McPherson, who served as a special assistant to Ford during his administration and as deputy director of presidential personnel from 1975-77. "His presence confirmed the historical significance of the unique partnership that has been forged between the university and what will become one of the nation's finest law schools."

A learning facility for the 21st century

The Law College Building (see cover story, Winter 1995), located at the corner of Bogue Street and Shaw Lane, opened its doors in August 1997 after two years of careful planning and a construction phase that was closely observed with pride by the entire MSU community. It has already become the yardstick by which other centers for the teaching and learning of law are measured. Work began in 1995 following approval of the affiliation agreement by the boards of both institutions. DCL/MSU sought a fully integrated building that would house the operation of the law school on the university's East Lansing campus. The resulting facility includes spacious amphitheater-style classrooms, intimate seminar rooms, and a distance learning classroom equipped with closed circuit televisions and video cameras. Internet connections are available at every seat. A showcase Moot Court, "the jewel in the crown," features video, audio, and computer technology as advanced as any currently in use in the nation's courtrooms.

The building also contains faculty and administrative offices as well as a large conference room that boasts a dramatic view east down Shaw Lane to Hagadorn Road. The building's comprehensive library, which spreads out over two floors, already compares favorably to those at other Big Ten law schools. Here, too, detailed attention to the new technologies shaping legal research and practice has led to the deployment of flexible computer connections that augment traditional database accessibility with Internet-based learning resources. To accommodate the natural connection between law and business and because the library of MSU's Eli Broad College of Business had outgrown its quarters in Eppley Center, the law school shares the new building with the William C. Gast Business Library, housed on the ground floor.

"Every classroom, office, and study area has been designed with one goal in mind: the collaborative, cross-disciplinary study of law in the setting of a Big Ten, land-grant university," says Bashara. Indeed, the building is a unique solution to the unique character of the affiliation, which has resulted in a blending of separate yet compatible traditions that will strengthen both institutions.

Reminders of the school's Detroit roots are intentionally visible at every turn. Ornate Art Deco light fixtures were salvaged from the college's last Detroit home and installed above the main entrance and the fourth floor atrium, where windows in the arched roof open to the sky. The facility also incorporates eight large bas-relief sculptures that had been part of a frieze on the facade of the college's East Elizabeth Street building. These include representations of four famous law-givers (Hammurabi, Moses, Justinian, and King John) in addition to the figure that has become one of the college's official symbols, a winged female Justice who clasps a sword in her right hand and a balanced scale in her left.

"I am extremely pleased that we have been able to preserve some physical reminders of our former home in the heart of our new one," says Bashara, who has called the college's move from Detroit painful but critical to its survival. "The fixtures and sculptures are a bridge to our past, linking everything that has gone before to our hopeful and confident new future."

Attracting the best and brightest

A large part of that future will depend on the quality of students that the law school can attract. In this area the affiliation has had an immediate, visible impact. "There's no doubt that the affiliation of DCL with MSU has cast the school in a new light in the eyes of prospective students," says Andrea Heatley, director of admissions. "We are entering the next century as a stronger, more formidable competitor on the law school applicant's list of highly desirable schools."

The credentials of applicants as measured by undergraduate grade-point average and score on the Law School Admission Test appear to be getting stronger with each entering class. A significant percentage of prospective students have advanced degrees. "The MSU name also denotes a Big Ten college atmosphere, which is attractive to students who liked undergraduate life at a large university and want to continue to enjoy the benefits of that environment in law school," Heatley notes. This is a significant change for DCL, which until the affiliation was perceived primarily as a nonresidential urban school catering to commuters. Many of the college's new students elect to live on campus in Owen Graduate Hall or in University Apartments, where they contribute to MSU's diverse community of scholars.

In addition to its three-year program for full-time students, DCL/MSU continues its long-standing commitment to providing an outstanding legal education to working professionals who wish to attend part-time. In fact, one of the first results of the affiliation has been the expansion of the college's evening division into a flexible course of study that allows students who have daytime work or life commitments to attend classes two, three, or four evenings a week. The school's new East Lansing location makes a law degree feasible for students commuting from the metropolitan Detroit tri-county area as well as from Kent, Kalamazoo, Genesee, and Saginaw counties.

Although classes are still made up primarily of Michigan residents, they are also taking on a national character. New York and Illinois are now among the top "feeder" states, followed closely by California and Florida. The globally recognized reputation of MSU is also helping attract international students, including two from Korea in 1996 and three from the People's Republic of China in 1997. Students from Canada, who made up nearly ten percent of the entering class in 1996, continue to be drawn to DCL/MSU because of the unique educational opportunities available through its Center for Canadian-United States Law.

The affiliation has been central to all of these developments. "The advantages of a small private law schoolCsmall classes and personal attentionCcoupled with the world-class resources of a great public university are a nearly unbeatable attraction for today's prospective law students, who seek both quality and value for their tuition dollars," says Heatley.

New opportunities, a shared mission

DCL/MSU cooperates with the university to offer dual degrees, enrich law-related research and outreach efforts, and provide professional development opportunities for the faculties of both institutions.

"The affiliation is an advantageous joint venture that will add quality to both institutions, the state, and the legal profession," says Bashara. MSU has gained a high-profile professional school that enhances its national prominence; DCL has the opportunity to reposition itself as a regional and national center of excellence in legal education.

"DCL/MSU is developing a distinctive niche by being responsive to new realities in legal education while emphasizing the fundamental values of the profession," Harrison adds. "Institutions of higher education, including law schools, must adapt to new marketplace realities. Among these are an influx of nontraditional students and the emergence of a number of nontraditional fields of law practice. Flexibility will be the key to survival, both for the recent law school graduate and the institutions that train them."

Those new "marketplace realities" are reshaping business as usual in American law schools, and the DCL/MSU affiliation will provide the environment necessary to test new conceptions of the role of legal education as it evolves to serve the profession. Two dual degree programs designed to prepare the lawyer of the future are among the first academic collaborations between the university and the law school. A formal dual degree program that enables students to earn both a law degree and a master of business administration (MBA) degree in four years of full-time study has been established with MSU's Eli Broad Graduate School of Management. "This program is a win-win proposition for both the law school and the business school," says James B. Henry, dean of the Eli Broad College of Business. "The combined knowledge of the legal environment and of business management is a strong foundation for business success."

Another dual degree program permits students to earn a law degree simultaneously with a master of public administration (MPA) degree. "The combined training in public policy and administration issues and the law will significantly enhance students" career opportunities in government, the nonprofit sector, and the private sector," notes Kenneth Corey, dean of the College of Social Science. Additional joint graduate programs are under development in the fields of labor and industrial relations, agriculture and natural resources, and communication arts and sciences.

"The new dual degree programs reflect our determination to provide outstanding programs of academic depth and rigor that will prepare students for positions of leadership in a number of fields," notes McPherson. Programs like these are preparing students for rewarding careers while helping fill society's need for well-rounded individuals who have both a solid grounding in technical legal skills and an appreciation for the "big picture."

Underlying these highly visible partnerships and making them possible is the core of common values shared by both institutions. Ensuring access, instilling a love of lifelong learning, emphasizing the importance of outreach and service to the community, responding creatively to change--all these features of MSU's land-grant mission also animate DCL/MSU's quest for distinction.

"It is clear that the practice of law is changing and that DCL/MSU will anticipate and lead change whenever possible," says Bashara. "But it's also important to note that some things in the profession will never change. The law is an honorable calling with responsibilities to its clients, the legal system, and society. DCL/MSU will strive to produce lawyers who have a profound appreciation of their roles. Our students will graduate with a deep respect for ethical principles. The real challenge of the affiliation will be to teach students the best traditions of the profession while expanding their world view beyond conventional boundaries."

McPherson notes that the study and exercise of law is an enterprise that requires judgment as well as intellect. "The law seeks equity and justice," he says. "Commitment to these basic ideals motivate students to become great lawyers. And these ideals are the touchstone for quality in a great Big Ten law school."

Near the conclusion of his address at the dedication of the Law College Building, Ford confidently predicted that "many of tomorrow's leaders will begin their careers here, at the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University." It's a prediction that many peopleC-including administrators, faculty, staff, and students on both sides of the affiliationC-have dedicated their own hearts and minds to making a reality.

author's note: Kristan Tetens, '86, M.A. '94, is an information officer at MSU's Division of University Relations.


DCL/MSU combines the advantages of small classes and personal attention with the world-class resources of a great public university.

The showcase Moot Court . . . features video, audio, and computer technology as advanced as any in the nation's courtrooms.

(Many) features of MSU's land-grant mission also animate DCL/MSU's quest for distinction.

MSU's global reputation is helping attract international students, including two from Korea and three from the People's Republic of China.

Facts About DCL/MSU