Michael Schill just bought a coat — several, in fact. As the new dean at University of Chicago Law School, he can’t control the frigid winter weather (the temperature was 4 degrees Fahrenheit the day he started the new job), but the former University of California at Los Angeles School of Law dean plans to make a big impact at the 108-year-old institution.
The National Law Journal recently connected with Schill, who’s been on the job since Jan. 4 as the school’s 14th dean. He replaced Saul Levmore, who has returned to full-time scholarship. Schill, 51, spoke with the NLJ about raising money, building upon the school’s reputation for groundbreaking work in law and economics and boosting the number of faculty. We edited and condensed his responses.
NLJ: You’re a guy known for raising money. Do you see that as the primary strength you bring to Chicago?
MS: Without wanting to sound bigheaded, I think I have certain strengths that make me a good fundraiser. First, I have an incredible work ethic, and people like that. They like to see I’m working with the school every waking hour of day. People respond to that. Second, I have the ability to listen. I don’t need to be the smartest person in every room. Third, what I’m particularly good at is connecting people’s aspirations with the needs of the institution. It’s about trying to push the two closer together.
NLJ: How much money did you raise while at UCLA and how much do you want to raise at Chicago?
MS: At UCLA, over $70 million in 5 1/2 years. It’s a good amount of money for a school that didn’t have a tradition of giving. Here, we’re in pre-campaign mode. It’ll be $150 million to $200 million.
NLJ: Does the University of Chicago Law School need all that money?
MS: We are way under-endowed compared to our peer schools — Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, NYU. The law school has generated the most important idea to affect law in the past 50 years: law and economics. I want to improve some of the connectivity of faculty and students between the law school and other departments in social sciences and the business school. It has been reduced in past 10 to 15 years. I also want to identify areas that we’ll grow in faculty — law and economics, international law, constitutional law. I want to find the resources to make it possible.
NLJ: It must have been a heady experience walking into the office your first day on the job. You’re kind of a big deal. How do you stay grounded?
MS: I just always recognize that it’s not about me. It’s about the institution. Eighty percent of the respect that people have for me is not because of Michael Schill. It’s because of the “University of Chicago” that follows my name.
Leigh Jones can be contacted at email@example.com.