There’s some big news this week in top law school land: Boalt Hall’s Dean Christopher Edley Jr. will be stepping down from his position at the end of 2013, and as of yesterday, has taken a medical leave from his duties due to some serious health problems. Edley leaves behind one of the best law schools in the nation — one which he helped guide into the top 10 in the U.S. News law school rankings.

Edley has served as dean for nearly a decade, and he’s navigated Berkeley Law through the legal profession’s boom and bust years. Dean Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern had this to say of Boalt’s outgoing dean: “In a period of real challenge for that great public law school — with declining state support, a creaky physical plant, some key faculty loses, and, later, myriad problems stemming from the tough job market in California and nationally — Edley provided steady, creative leadership.”

Despite its overall success, Chris Edley’s tenure as dean was not without controversy. We’ll review some of the highlights of his career at the school in a bit. But first, why is he leaving so suddenly?

Sadly, it looks like Dean Edley is dealing with another bout of prostate cancer, which he described in an email to faculty and staff as “more than worrisome, but much less than dire.” From Edley’s email:

Dean Chris Edley

As some of you know, I had surgery for prostate cancer in May, but learned recently that I need further treatment. This must be my priority. I expect that UCSF will vanquish the malady within a few months. Yet, as I contemplate what is ahead of me, I realize I am not prepared to return to the deanship. These developments have reminded me again how short life can be, and, for that reason, I feel an urgency to turn to some other professional goals I will pursue while continuing with you as a faculty colleague. Chief among these will be public education equity and excellence.

Professor Gillian Lester has been appointed acting dean during the search for Edley’s replacement. As we wish Dean Edley the best of luck on his road to recovery, let’s take a stroll down memory lane.

As you may recall, Edley took a lot of flak in 2010 for his involvement in seeking more generous retirement packages for highly paid University of California administrators, but he more than made up for it in his resolution to the California Regent’s last minute fee increase of 2011. Instead of allowing his students to bear the additional cost — just a hair over $1,000 — the good dean immediately issued scholarships in the exact amount of the increase to all J.D. students registered. Now that’s an example of a great law dean.

Here are some additional examples of the things once less than satisfactory that have changed for the better at Berkeley Law under Dean Edley’s leadership since 2004. From the Nuts & Boalts blog:

– No wireless or electrical outlets in classrooms. If you sat in the front row and had an exceptionally long power cord, you could plug in your laptop to a surge protector. And the battery power in laptops those days were not what they are today. You’d see solitaire on people’s screens in class.

— Chairs would break. During class. With people sitting in them. Torts.

— Ranked 13th.

— The law school’s website has neat graphs on faculty numbers. Suffice it to say, we’ve hired some top caliber talent during Dean Edley’s tenure, including Interim Dean Lester.

Please feel free to start speculating on who will fill Dean Edley’s prestigious post, but when all is said and done, this man was able to keep a cool head, even while his students were busy beheading birds.

Back in 2011, Edley promised Berkeley Law would remain a “financially-competitive, intellectually-luminous, professionally cutting-edge, culturally-superior, and all around fabulous law school community in the decades to come.” Let’s cross our fingers and hope the new dean will be able to live up to those words.

(Flip to the next page to see the letter sent to Boalt Hall alumni as to Dean Edley’s imminent departure.)


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