UC Berkeley law school - an incubator for leaders

By Mary Louise Frampton, San Francisco Chronicle

Generations of Berkeley Law graduates have been leaders of social movements and judicial pioneers. Thelton Henderson, class of '62, was the first African American appointed to the Northern District federal bench; Cruz Reynoso, '58, was the first Latino to serve on the California Supreme Court; and Rose Bird, '65, was the state high court's first female justice.

Steeped in progressive legal realism in its infancy, Boalt Hall attracts students with a hunger to make a difference. From civil rights to environmental justice, criminal reform to fair-labor practices, our students, faculty and alumni are committed to building a more just society.

Our scholarship has led to state and national social reforms. Herma Hill Kay, a former dean and professor, co-authored California's no-fault divorce law, calling it a "movement whose time had come."

It eventually spread to every state. She also seeded Equal Rights Advocates, a San Francisco nonprofit that protects women's legal rights.

Professors John Coons and Stephen Sugarman argued successfully for K-12 financial reform based on the Constitution's "equal protection" clause. Lawmakers "embraced the idea of education equity," says Sugarman. Although limited by Proposition 13, the legal ruling reduced financial inequalities between rich and poor school districts. New Jersey and other states soon followed California's lead. Four decades later, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed school finance reform is based on an article co-written by Justice Goodwin Liu when he was an associate dean.

Our public education lens today is focused on "restorative justice." Considered unconventional by some educators, that's a disciplinary tactic that encourages accountability and relationship building instead of harsh punishment.

Results from our first-ever empirical study are dramatic: In one West Oakland middle school, suspensions dropped by 87 percent, and expulsions dropped to zero.

It's a marked improvement for youngsters who ought to be in class, not detention. Our results provide hard data for lawmakers seeking to reform K-12 education. It's an innovative idea that deserves a closer look. 2/26/2012