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By Becky Freligh
"It was bound to come, and it has come," wrote Dean Allan Smith in the August 1961 issue of Law Quadrangle Notes.
What watershed moment in Michigan Law history was the dean referring to? None other than the creation of the Law School Fund, the oldest annual fund on the U-M campus, marking its 50th anniversary this year.
Yes, Dean Smith told alumni, the Law School had financial needs that state appropriations alone couldn't meet (sound familiar?), and so it was, for the first time, turning to all alumni for fiscal help in an organized fashion. Mega-gifts from alumni like William W. Cook, 1882, the building benefactor, and Frederick Leckie, 1904, the scholarship donor, had been amazing boons. But the school also needed to rely upon a system of regular annual alumni giving.
Now, it was clear, everyone had to step up.
In the half century since, thousands of Michigan Law alumni have done so, some reliably, every year. The Law School Fund—that pool of discretionary funding available for where it's most needed—has been a steady source of financial support for every dean from Smith to Caminker.
"The Law School Fund is one of the things that made this institution more than an ordinary state law school," says Theodore J. St. Antoine, '54, the James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor Emeritus and dean of the Law School from 1971–78.
The person most closely associated with the Law School Fund is Professor Emeritus Roy Proffitt, '48, who served Michigan Law from 1956–86 as both teacher (of admiralty law and criminal law and procedure) and administrator. Proffitt's duties included directing the Law School Fund for nearly a quarter century until his retirement, a task he performed with uncommon warmth and dedication. A Regents' memoir upon Proffitt's retirement credited his imaginative leadership and his talent for personal relationships as critical factors in the Fund's success.
"I kept hammering home that this is your Law School, and it's important that it stay strong," Proffitt recalled in a 2007 interview. To that end, he developed a large, nationwide network of alumni volunteers with the goal of securing gifts from all alumni through annual campaigns, headed by a national chair.
Every success was celebrated. In 1965, then-national chair Emmett Eagan, '34, announced that for the first time in the Fund's history, an entire state, Alaska, reported a gift from every Michigan Law alumnus living there—all 10 of them.
In his annual message, "Reading Between the Sheets," Proffitt sliced and diced the numbers, urging on volunteers and donors with the fervor of a proud parent. "WE DID IT! WE DID IT!" read the headline of his 1972 column. The 1979 results were simply "WONDERFUL!"
The Fund evolved with the Law School and with the times. The first campaign benefited student aid, "practice court," the library, and a visiting professor. The 1965 campaign strategy called for getting "man-to-man contact in every instance where this is possible." By 1984 the Fund had begun a drive toward a collegiate professorship honoring Wade H. McCree Jr., the first endowed chair at Michigan named for an African American. The next year, the Fund provided faculty with personal computers. At century's end, Fund dollars helped to launch the Legal Practice Program, still part of the 1L core curriculum.
Today's Fund continues to rely on a wide volunteer base that includes the national chair, class agents, reunion volunteers, and firm captains. Since 2006, student volunteers have staffed the annual Nannes Challenge.
Throughout its history, the Fund has kept Michigan "one of the highest-quality law schools in the world," as Dean Smith said in announcing the Fund's creation. But while Emeritus Dean St. Antoine recalls he used Fund dollars primarily for enrichment—"the frosting on the cake," he says—today, says Dean Evan Caminker, the Fund buys necessities.
"As state support has declined to historic lows, the Law School Fund has become ever more critical to our mission," says Dean Caminker. "Gifts to the Fund truly touch every aspect of life in the Quad. The transformative power of collective annual alumni giving cannot be overestimated. Michigan Law would not be the same without the work of the Law School Fund."
More information about the Law School Fund...
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