USC hopes new building, dean will lead to higher rankings
For years, there was talk of a new law school — followed by little action.
Progress stalled time and time again; problems in the school grew time and time again. The building continued to fall apart, the faculty grew increasingly weary of administration promises and USC’s law school dropped into the dreaded third tier of unranked law schools.
Those days appear to be over.
The law school — now led by a well-respected Rob Wilcox, who in a symbolic move refused to take a pay increase with his promotion from associate dean last semester — seems on the verge of turning the corner.
University officials recently announced plans for a $75 million state-of-the-art law school, complete with high-tech auditoriums, a spacious library and classrooms that appear fit for the 21st century. The building will span 186,000 square feet between Senate and Gervais streets.
And USC is now providing tangible support — or $30 million in institutional bond funds — to propel the project along. Couple that with $20 million in previous donations, and the project is two-thirds of the way funded.
“For the first time, we’ve seen that kind of commitment of funds from the university,” Wilcox said in a wide-ranging interview. “That’s the big difference now from previous years.”
The other $25 million is expected primarily from three high-profile fundraisers, hired by the university for one year and led by former Attorney General Henry McMaster. Michelle Dodenhoff, USC’s vice president for development and alumni relations, said she hopes the money will come within a year.
With $75 million in tow, USC could present the project for state approval and soon break ground. It would be a publicly visible — and no doubt significant — turnaround for the school.
But the building is, by no means, the only change Wilcox wants. Simply put, he wants back in the national rankings.
“Our rankings need to go up,” Wilcox said. “As much as we don’t like to play the rankings game, we have to play it. It’s one of the few pieces of information a senior has about what law school he or she will attend.”
And he has lots of goals to do just that.
— With $1.5 million from the university, Wilcox will hire 10 new faculty members over the next several years. That will replenish a core of professors that has dwindled with departures and budget cuts. He also plans to bring on staff members for student support and advising.
— The quality of students attending USC’s law school needs to improve — both in-state and out-of-state, Wilcox said.
“We need to do a better job of getting the very best South Carolinians to see the value of coming to this school no matter where they want to practice,” Wilcox said. “And I want to get to a point where we’re not losing the best students to the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina.”
— USC will also decrease the incoming class size to 215; the average class had ballooned to about 240 and frustrated faculty and diminished student experiences, Wilcox said. The university will lose millions in tuition revenue but has agreed to the measure.
— Instead of asking for academic scholarships, Wilcox will urge faculty members to speak in front of Congress and the South Carolina Legislature and amp the university’s prestige to a wider swath of people.
— This will take time — time for the alumni to return, for the rankings to rise, for the better students to arrive, for the building to rise and for the faculty to be hired, Wilcox said.
And these things are surely not certain to happen.
“I can tell you the confidence level of the school and its alumni is higher than I’ve seen it in some time,” Wilcox said. “The school is on an upward track and higher than I’ve seen it in years.”