On Thursday evening, the de la Cruz-Mentschikoff Endowed Chair in Law and Economics was formally granted to Fred S. McChesney, JD '78, in an investiture ceremony at the Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center. Among the speakers were University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala, Miami Law Dean Patricia D. White and Timothy J. Muris, a George Mason University School Foundation Professor of Law.
Carlos M. de la Cruz Sr., JD '79, who endowed the chair, also spoke at the ceremony, and his prepared remarks are reproduced here:
President Shalala, thank you very much for your kind words. No person in academia has been more effective in accomplishing their agendas than you and Dean Soia Mentschikoff. Congratulations.
Thirty-five years ago, when I studied at our law school, I was half as old as I am now. I drove an Oldsmobile Cutlass, a car marketed to the then-upwardly mobile middle class, that was the best-selling car in America. There were no Aston Martins, Bentleys or Ferraris to be seen on the road. Today, the Cutlass no longer exists – GM killed it, and was not even able to sell the brand. Ford succeeded in selling Aston Martin to concentrate on Ford and Lincoln. Bentley contributes nice profits to Audi, and Ferrari is the star of Fiat. All three have a great reputation and are all over Miami.
The car industry and most other consumer product industries pay attention to the increasing polarization of income. So far, university students have benefited from student loans and other government programs that supplement the dwindling income of the middle and lower income class. The lack of jobs, however, has made the economic wisdom of student loans dangerously dependent on the value of the degree and the relevance of the courses taken.
So, where does our law school stand? Applications to law schools have decreased this year. But for sure, this is no reason we should lower our admission standards to get more paying students. And our cost structure does not permit us to lower tuition. Stopgap measures can only buy us time. New buildings are not enough and, in any event, we do not have access to the capital needed to commit to that kind of a building program. And any missteps will spread like wildfire over the Internet.
So the truth is that in the foreseeable economic environment, we must all work to have a great reputation just to stay as we are. Our success can only come from the quality and relevance of both the faculty's research and of the knowledge that stays with our students.
Which gets me to our chair. Soia Mentschikoff, in my opinion, walked on water.
Her scholarly contributions would have raised the reputation of any law school. Her chosen field of expertise, the Uniform Commercial Code, is at the very crossroads of law and economics. In 1974 Henry Manne, with Dean Mentschikoff's consent, founded the Law and Economics Center. Dean Manne graces us with his presence today. The LEC introduced thinking that would have raised the reputation of any law school as well. Now, the questioning of the existing financial postulates and institutions is, if anything, more urgent that at any time since the Bretton Woods international conferences of 1944.
Soia's performance as a teacher was also memorable. I was one of her admiring students and spoke to her often. But her influence as a teacher extended beyond the classrooms. On Monday I had lunch with my good friend Gene Stearns, who did not attend UM Law, and out of the blue he said, "because Soia taught me that first you tell the jury why and then how."
It is easier to improve a reputation if you build on traditions and accomplishments. We have them – let's use them. It is up to all of us to do our very best. Now you know "why" – Professor Fred McChesney is the "how."
Carlos M. de la Cruz, Sr.