A Message from Dean Paul Caron: Our New Academic Year:
With the first week of law school nearly complete, I want to reflect for a moment on the state of our law school community. No doubt, when we left campus in March, no one anticipated that we would still be operating remotely to kick off our next academic year. But it is in the midst of all this uncertainty—all of this darkness—that Pepperdine Caruso School of Law has shined brighter than ever.
In a normal year, I'd make that assessment based on typical law school metrics. In March, U.S. News and World Report ranked the school number 47 on its annual list of the best law schools in America, the highest ranking in our history. This ranking reflects our commitment to raising the value of a Pepperdine Caruso Law degree for our students and alumni. We continue to increase the academic credentials and diversity of our students, and our graduates continue to pass the bar exam and secure meaningful legal jobs at higher and higher rates.
But this is not a normal year. Our world has been upended by a global pandemic, thrusting everything we know into disorder. Our nation has grappled with sweeping protests against racial inequality, violence in many of our cities, and political polarization in advance of the 2020 election. It is true that our ability to excel with respect to rankings through the quality and performance of our students is of great importance; it represents a promise fulfilled to each student who comes to Pepperdine Caruso Law in the hope of graduating and embarking on a promising legal career. But what has made me so proud in recent months goes well beyond those metrics. It is about our ability to model faith and wisdom, leadership and resilience. And to remind a world teetering on the edge that meeting such challenges demands that we "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God." (Micah 6:8)
Over the past five months, our community has lived and breathed these principles.
We have cared for each other when the going got tough. We used our Student Emergency Fund to assist those within our community who needed help with everything from computers to groceries to rent. We funded new research assistant positions for students whose employment fell through as a result of the pandemic. We prayed together and opened up mental health resources for those of us struggling.
Our faculty charged into the chaos of COVID, sharing their wisdom on the most pressing topics of the day. Whether it was about lawyering in the midst of a public health crisis, crafting new systems for dispute resolution in a pandemic, protecting our upcoming elections, meeting the constitutional dilemmas generated by COVID, or navigating religious liberty and stay-at-home orders, our faculty brought research and knowledge to the national conversation.
Our alumni advised, guided, and supported our community during these difficult times. They met individually with students looking for professional advice; they cheered our students on as they reached a host of milestones during the pandemic; and they provided resources to our law school so that we could continue to achieve greatness as a community.
We also worked together to ensure that nothing—not even the closure of our campus and physical separation from each other—would prevent us from providing the signature first-rate education that defines the Pepperdine Caruso Law experience. Our educational technology team created resources for faculty and students to make sure we had the very best pedagogical tools entering the fall semester; our faculty spent countless hours meeting, learning from each other, and rebuilding their courses to take advantage of new opportunities presented by online learning; and our information services team overhauled the law school to ensure that our campus is ready for whatever curveballs the coming months throw us.
Finally, I am most proud of how all facets of our community came together—with wisdom and humility—to discuss how we can and must do better when it comes to diversity and racial inequality. These issues have weighed heavily on me; it is why, back in November 2019, I announced that Pepperdine Caruso Law would have its first Assistant Dean of Student Life, Diversity and Belonging, Chalak Richards. As a wave of protest and debate swept the nation, our community seized the opportunity to learn and share. We hosted Open Conversations on racial justice joined by hundreds within our community. Our Black alumni joined us to share their own experiences and struggles—stories that have transformed how many of us think about these issues.
We did more than just learn and listen. We implemented diversity training and developed implicit bias resources for our community. We hosted Continuing Legal Education programming to train lawyers around the country on issues related to race and the law. And we launched initiatives to increase access to a Pepperdine Caruso Law education for people of color like partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the Pathway to Law program, and newly endowed scholarships for historically underserved student populations.
I know we all yearn to be back together in community and on campus. It is my most fervent prayer that doing so becomes viable as soon as possible. However, if I have learned anything in recent months, it is that our community is armed to meet the most daunting of challenges. Part of that is, no doubt, because we train our students to be excellent lawyers. But being part of the Pepperdine Caruso Law community is so much more than that. We aspire not just to be lawyers, but to be leaders; not just to practice law, but to heal the world.
Let me leave you with one final thought. This is the first Pepperdine Caruso Law academic year since 1969 to begin without our beloved colleague Jim McGoldrick. Not a day goes by that we don't all think about him. Indeed, it is hard to imagine our law school without his towering presence, rapier wit, and keen wisdom. But reflecting on the past several months, I know that every extraordinary step we have taken as a community, every obstacle we have overcome together, is part and parcel of his legacy. He taught us to fight and to laugh, to learn and to share. He gave us the courage we need for days like these. As I contemplate our new academic year, I could not be more proud of this community and how we have come together at an unprecedented and challenging time in our history. Jim dedicated over 49 years of his life to our community. He has now passed the torch to each and every one of us to add our own notes to the great unfinished symphony of Pepperdine Caruso Law.
With prayers for your continued good health,