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Adjuncts’ generosity helps fund law scholarships

May 21, 2008

The generosity of nearly 30 adjunct professors at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has prompted the creation of a new scholarship program that will reward deserving students with full in-state tuition.

The first two adjunct faculty scholarships have been awarded to Brian Barner, a second-year student from Peoria, Ariz., and Jue Wang, a first-year student from Qingdao, in northeastern China. Each will receive $16,289 to help offset the cost of tuition and fees in the 2008-2009 academic year.

“I was just thrilled,” says Barner, who has an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. “My parents were able to pay for Georgetown, but they said, ‘You’re on your own after that.’ It’s a real help not to have to graduate with so much debt.”

The program was funded by some of the college’s 2007-2008 adjunct professors, who are judges and lawyers from the private and public sectors in Maricopa County. They include two Arizona Supreme Court justices, a former chief judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals, a former chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, the managing partners of two of the Valley’s largest law firms and the managing partner of an international accounting firm.

The adjunct faculty members enhance the college’s curriculum by teaching a variety of legal topics, including patent litigation, Arizona media law, evidence, health law, employment law, estate planning and many others. In exchange, they each receive an honorarium.

This year, 29 of them waived nearly $80,000 in honoraria, which was made available to the college’s dean, Patricia White, to use for guest speakers, school awards and the Adjunct Faculty Scholarship Program.

“The College of Law is particularly proud of the efforts and generosity of our distinguished adjunct faculty, and we are proud to establish these scholarships in honor of their contributions,” White says. “We hope this is the first year of an annual tradition.”

Gary Birnbaum, the college’s associate dean for graduate studies and program development, has been an adjunct at the college for about seven years. He worked with White to establish the scholarship program.

“It’s another unique program designed to assist students who have outstanding academic credentials and perceived economic need,” says Birnbaum, the managing director at the Phoenix law firm of Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre & Friedlander. “We feel these scholarships are an appropriate means to recognize the contributions of the adjunct faculty members to the university in general, and the College of Law in particular.”

Geoffrey Sturr, an attorney at Osborn Maledon, spends most weekends preparing for the Professional Responsibility course that he teaches every Monday night at the college. Despite the time commitment, Sturr says he has enjoyed the experience – especially getting to know his students – and he strongly supports the scholarship program.

“I think of waiving the honorarium as doubling the return on my investment,” says Sturr, whose degree is from the UCLA School of Law. “I happily devote time to teaching because it is such a rewarding experience. It helps improve my knowledge and experience, and it gives me a chance to meet and get to know some very bright and talented students. And given the area that I teach, I hope I have an opportunity to leave a mark on young lawyers entering the profession.”

Programs such as the new scholarship fund are needed to make it possible for more law students to go into public-interest law or government work, Sturr says.

“Law school debt is affecting the choices people make in their professional lives,” he says. “Anything that we, as professionals, can do to help students receive a legal education without accumulating too much debt is something we all should be doing.”

Wang, who holds a bachelor’s degree in law from Wuhan University in China, came to the United States in 2006 with her husband, Chunpeng Zhao, a doctoral-degree student at the School of Earth and Space Exploration. In addition to the expense of law school, Wang has survived the challenges of being a first-year law student with a significant language barrier.

“Our professors in China teach more about the theory of law, where here we get to actually read cases, so it’s a big difference,” she says.

“It’s a lot of pressure to be a second language learner and be at law school, but I feel excited to learn new things and to see myself improving.”

Wang says the scholarship will help her with that pressure, too.

“It’s kind of hard for me to pay out-of-state tuition, and it’s a big help that I won’t have to take out loans next year,” she says.