Vanderbilt Law School: Aspirations and Realities

Vanderbilt Law School: Aspirations and Realities

by D. Don Welch


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The Law Department was one of two departments that opened for classes in the fall of 1874 in the newly-founded Vanderbilt University. The operation of the institution in the nineteenth century was governed by a quasi-proprietary model, which was abandoned in 1900, when the University made the school a more integral part of the academic enterprise.

The first half of the twentieth century was a struggle for survival. The School faced a number of obstacles, including the educational and cultural headwinds that all Southern educational institutions faced, limited resources, and a University hesitant to embrace national trends in legal education.

These realities resulted in the School's expulsion from the Association of American Law Schools in 1926. A renaissance of sorts began under Dean Earl C. Arnold a few years later, but was ultimately snuffed out by the Great Depression and then the onset of World War II. The Law School's doors were closed in 1944. Vanderbilt Law School reopened in 1946, and John W. Wade's twenty-year deanship, beginning in 1952, set the School on a new path.

While the institution's continued existence was no longer in doubt, the School encountered new tensions and conflicts. Vanderbilt became the first integrated Southern private law school in 1956, as part of a broader movement to diversify its faculty and student body. The movement from regional to national aspirations created new fault-lines among the School's constituencies, as did the debate among the faculty over the relative priorities of teaching and research. Throughout the century, developments in the academic program reflected and contributed to the new, modern understandings of legal education. This history is based on interviews and extensive archival research in personal papers, reports, Board of Trust and faculty meeting minutes.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780826515827
Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
Publication date: 02/08/2008
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

D. Don Welch is Professor of Law, Associate Dean of the Law School, and Professor of Religion at Vanderbilt University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     ix
Preface     xi
Introduction: Aiming for the Stars     1
Vanderbilt Law School in the Nineteenth Century: Its Creation and Formative Years     3
Introduction     3
External Influences     4
Part of "A Great University"     7
"A False Start"     9
The "Lease"     12
The "Lessees"     14
Changes in Composition of the Faculty     16
Law Students     19
Academic Program     23
Infrastructure     27
"Reorganization": Poised for Change     33
The Struggle for Respectability     37
The Challenge of Leadership     37
A National Embarrassment     44
Geographic Capture     52
Standards and Students     56
A Shortage of Resources     64
The Recovery of Stature and Reputation     74
A New Dean and a New Course     75
Depression Era Finances     80
Meeting Regional Challenges     85
Academic Respectability     92
A Casualty of War: The Doors Close     98
Reopening the Law School     113
The WadeYears     122
John Webster Wade     122
Outgrowing the Region     125
Breaking the Color Barrier     138
Institution Builders     147
Making the Most of Second Careers     154
Opportunities and Challenges     165
Introduction     165
Choosing Among Priorities     165
Mining a Larger Pool of Talent     173
A School ... Not an Olympics     182
Modernizing the Academic Program     194
Epilogue: A Future Even Greater Than Its Past?     201
Vanderbilt Law School Deans     205
Notes     207
Index     281

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