A legacy of empathy and excellence
Dean Michael J. Kaufman departs Loyola after 35 years of dedicated service
After 35 years at Loyola University Chicago School of Law—including five years as dean—beloved educator and administrator Michael J. Kaufman became dean of Santa Clara University School of Law in California on July 1. Known for his forward-looking pedagogy, his deep respect and care for every individual, and his sustained commitment to expanding equity and inclusion, Kaufman leaves a powerful legacy at Loyola.
Why did you choose teaching as a career, and what brought you to Loyola in 1986?
I’ve loved teaching ever since I helped my two younger brothers with their homework. When I graduated from law school, the idea of teaching law called to me, but I was told the best way to do this was to first get some real-life practice experience. I went to a Chicago firm and loved the challenging work. Loyola Professor of Law Anne-Marie Rhodes was of counsel to the firm then, and she told me that Professor Richard Michael—a legend at this law school—was taking some time off to write a book. So I got a job teaching Civil Procedure at Loyola for a year, and I never left.
You became associate dean of academic affairs in 2005, while David Yellen was dean. What accomplishments in that role are you most proud of?
They were collaborative accomplishments, and David was a great leader. He led the law school through tough financial and enrollment times in the midst of the Great Recession. We worked together on five-year strategic plans that included aligning scarce resources around our priorities in education and student support.
Together, we developed a requirement that all students have experiential learning, including a live-client experience, before they graduated. That was really ahead of its time. The ABA now requires this for all law schools.
The most innovative thing we did while I was associate dean was changing our part-time evening program into our Weekend JD hybrid program. We took a serious risk in doing that. An evening division had always been part of Loyola’s mission of making law school accessible to students with work or family commitments. About six years ago, we had so few evening students enrolled that we had to decide whether to continue it in another form or discontinue it. With faculty support, we took a leap of faith and created the Weekend JD, which has been a huge success by every measure.
When David Yellen left Loyola, you succeeded him as dean. Why did you want to take on this role?
It’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s true: I love this place. Working with David for 11 years made me realize I could make a tremendous impact on a school I love and go beyond that to lead educators in other schools on issues like expanding access to law school and providing an authentic education.
I served on my community’s school board for 12 years and do research around how people learn. When I became associate dean, I wondered, “What if legal education were founded on a true appreciation for the ways in which law students actually learn? And what would that look like?”
We developed much more hands-on, experiential learning; a curriculum that grows with students and their interests; and an emphasis on relationship-building skills. It’s pretty clear that students never learn by themselves, but in relationship with each other, their professors, and alumni.
So beyond the texts, we try to impart skills like empathy, engaged listening, interviewing, and counseling, all of which are indispensable to both learning and being a good lawyer. And we have an advantage here, in that the students we choose to admit are generally empathetic, compassionate people who want to serve others.
During your deanship, the law school made substantial strides in expanding equity and seeking racial justice. How do you feel about the progress?
I’m extremely proud of our incredible initiatives around diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’d add a caution to that statement by saying you can never do enough. The work continues.
The best job I ever had was clerking for the late Nathaniel Jones, judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and general counsel of the NAACP. He was my role model and really inspired me to do a lot of diversity, inclusion, and equity work.
These values are not something separate from everything else we do at the law school. They’re guiding principles that permeate everything: how we teach students, how we train them to be professionals, and how we treat each other. We set about making a very intentional and comprehensive effort to become more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable.
Last summer, with the unanimous consent of faculty, we revised our mission statement to make it absolutely clear that we are an anti-racist law school and that we’re educating our students not just to be neutral in their application of the rule of law, but to use the rule of law to promote racial and social justice. I don’t know that there’s a mission statement like it anywhere else in the country among law schools. It’s that strong.
But how do we make that statement live and breathe and become a real force in the law school? In 2018, we partnered with a diversity and inclusion firm, Nextions, to assess where we are and benchmark it against successes that we had. Based on student survey results, Nextions gave us a host of best practices, like creating the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity led by the incomparable Josie Gough.
All 16 law school committees are charged with doing anti-racist work within their own orbit. For example, we’ve grown the number of students of color enrolled at the law school, but the admissions committee is implementing strategies and attainable goals around further increasing that number. We’ve made progress in expanding the diversity of our faculty and staff, but the appointments committee is working on strategies to increase it more. And the curriculum and teaching committee has developed anti-racism pedagogies and training for our faculty. It’s all-in work, and we can always do better, but we’re on the right path.
You’ve made a point of strengthening relationships with alumni. What would you like to say to Loyola law graduates?
I’m proud of the alumni connections we’ve strengthened. David was really good at this and developed great gifts with naming rights around the building. We’ve now built on that to develop the Curt (JD ’75) and Linda Rodin Center for Social Justice. More recently, we received a cornerstone gift from a nonalum, Barry McCabe, for the Rule of Law Institute. Both of these are aligned with our mission and strong parts of our racial justice efforts.
Besides these transformative gifts, overall giving and alumni engagement have increased dramatically the past few years. The Alumni Board of Governors has become an active partner in our strategic planning for the law school, including our anti-racism work. I think it’s a model volunteer alumni board for the University. And more alumni are involved in mentorship, teaching, coaching competitions, hiring our students, and of course, funding scholarships and fellowships.
So my message to alums is one of gratitude. Many of them were my students when I started here, and we’ve grown up together. I’ve watched their careers blossom and watched them give back to their law school in countless ways. We’re close colleagues and friends. Our alumni have inspired me to be a better dean.
A tranformative leader
Zelda Harris takes the helm as interim dean
Strategic thinker, team player
As a Loyola University of Chicago School of Law administrator, Michael J. Kaufman created many effective five-year strategic plans. In 2018, the University tapped his expertise to expand that work across Loyola.
First as interim vice provost, then as vice provost for academic strategy— always concurrent with his duties leading the law school—Kaufman worked with a strategic planning steering committee to help create “We Are Called,” a Universitywide strategic plan adopted by the Board of Trustees in June 2021.
From conversations with University constituencies—students, faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, alumni, and community partners—emerged six enduring Loyola values that are the plan’s basis: care for the whole person, extraordinary academics and research, community-centered engagement, global connections and partnerships, operational excellence, and care for our world. The committee also identified and articulated the guiding principles that animate those values.
One of those guiding principles, design thinking, is a major feature of Kaufman’s own research and leadership at the law school. It incorporates concepts including empathy, focused research, openness to new ideas, prototyping, testing, and nimble iteration—to promote a culture of continuous organizational improvement and responsiveness to complex social problems.
That commitment to agility and flexibility guides not only the contents of the plan but also the planning process itself. “This isn’t going to be an episodic plan that gets revisited five years later to see if it succeeded,” Kaufman says. “True, authentic plans are built around a culture of continuous organizational growth, change, nimbleness, and resilience, all of which have been made stronger at Loyola by the COVID-19 pandemic.”