A World Class Law School in A World Class City Requires a World Class Building!

Over the course of the eight weeks of my deanship, I have spoken at several alumni events and shared my vision of the “Power of Legal Education.” One thing that comes up over and over again in my meetings with the alumni is the demand for new law school facilities. The University of Houston Law Center is a world class institution located in a world class city, and it requires a world class building!

The Houston Law Center is an exemplar of the “Power of Legal Education” by fundamentally transforming each student and teaching them how to think like lawyers. Through this process, each student learns to write precisely, analyze rigorously, advocate persuasively and conform to the highest professional standards. Our law graduates then take these tools to transform the world by representing individual clients to secure justice, as well as provide the legal architecture of global and national social, political and economic advocacy.

But the current building does not convey the “Power of Legal Education.” A building is more than its outward appearance. It is more than bricks and mortar. It is the corporeal manifestation of who we are and who we aspire to be. The Law Center building is unrepresentative of the highly credentialed and well-published faculty who imparts knowledge to students and who through legal scholarship transforms the debate and discussion of globally and nationally significant issues. It is unrepresentative of our clinics and centers, which through their cutting-edge work (with our students) transform the world through their research and advocacy. It is unrepresentative of the Law Center’s accomplished alumni, talented students, and energetic staff.

The Law Center’s building needs to reflect its world-class content. It needs to be representative of our aspirations, hopes and dreams. A new building will facilitate the recruitment and retention of well-credentialed students, faculty, and staff. A new Law Center facility will enhance our already strong reputation and rise in the U.S. News & World Report and other rankings. A new Law Center building will support the latest technology and equipment with appropriate space configurations for additional simulation courses, clinical programs, and other experiential learning so that our graduates are more practice-ready for the dynamic legal market. For all these reasons, a new Law Center building is required.

My vision of a new Law Center building is one that is shiny, bright, and modern; that is state-of-the-art; that is ADA compliant; that is family friendly; that has sufficient and varied classroom space; that has a properly functioning heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system; and that by design, brings faculty, staff, alumni, and students together.

I recognize that the Law Center community has a complex emotional relationship with the present Law Center building because of almost twenty years of past promises to build a new building and the devastation caused by flooding from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The flooding made the lower level of the building unusable for the law library. Despite this disruption and dislocation, members of the Law Center community including faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends, pulled together to make sure that the Law Center’s key functions were carried out and rescued and restored the building. Given this experience, the building creates a sometimes confounding relationship for many members of the Law Center community.

Although the past is now ancient history, it may still resonate in our collective memories. It is time to move forward! The University has engaged Dini Spheris, a very well-regarded fundraising consultant, to help us assess the capacity and inclination of our most prominent alumni and friends to determine the level of philanthropy available to fund a new building. This commitment by the University is significant progress and “unsticks” the building discourse. It is a necessary first step, allowing us to estimate how much we can rely on philanthropy to build a world-class facility. Once we know that amount, it will inform the next steps necessary to move forward.

In the meantime, we need to focus on our collective vision of a new building and repeat the mantra: “A world-class law school in a world-class city requires a world-class building!”

Leonard M. Baynes
Dean and Professor of Law
University of Houston Law Center