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Rosenbury makes great strides in five years leading UF Law; now she must deal with COVID-19

Senior Editor News in Photos

Laura Rosenbury University of Florida Law Dean Laura Rosenbury was about to mark twin milestones before COVID-19 became a global pandemic.

On the eve of Rosenbury’s fifth anniversary, “U.S. News and World Report” named UF a top 25 law school and a top 10 public law school — ranking it 24th among all law schools — in its latest survey.

In an April 1 interview, Rosenbury acknowledged that COVID-19 has tended to overshadow the school’s 24-point rise in the rankings since 2016.

“We’ve had to postpone the celebration,” she said. “Obviously, the health and safety of our staff, faculty, and students are our top priority.”

Rosenbury has been forced to cancel a May 15 graduation ceremony, switch courses to “synchronous” online instruction, and prepare online exams, so students could maintain regular class schedules and advance to the next level or graduate on time.

“Of course, there were some glitches,” Rosenbury said. “I’m really impressed with the way both faculty and students have embraced the online platform and continue to have very engaging and intense Socratic discussions via the Zoom platform.”

On March 22, when she learned that a UF Law student who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus had visited campus March 9, Rosenbury sent a campus-wide alert.

“Thus far, to my knowledge, no other student, faculty, or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19,” she said.

Rosenbury contacted the aspiring lawyer, and learned that the exposure resulted in illness, but not hospitalization.

“The student reported that it was like the flu, times 100,” she said.

Rosenbury’s admirers say the latest ranking, and UF Law’s ability to pivot so swiftly to online instruction, testify to her hands-on leadership and ability to meet challenges.

Since becoming the school’s dean, the Harvard Law grad has worked to recruit outstanding faculty, attract high-caliber students, mold the curriculum to a changing profession, and build a network of donors, alumni say.

“She has come in and done just an outstanding job,” said Jo Thacker, a Central Florida attorney and chair of the UF Law Center Association.

Thacker credits Rosenbury with procuring more scholarship money, which has led to a 15th national ranking among all law schools in student selectivity.

According to the school, more than 30% of JD students identify as racially or ethnically diverse, and 23% of the 1L class are first in their family to graduate from college.

“She has been remarkable in her fundraising efforts and those scholarships make a huge difference in attracting top students,” Thacker said.

Thacker estimates that 80% of law school students have some financial support, and that, combined with competitive tuition, has made UF Law a more attractive choice.

The law school recruited 15 new full-time faculty members over the past 18 months alone, according to school figures.

J. Carter Andersen, vice chair of the UF Law Center Association, and a Florida Bar Board of Governors member, said he was immediately impressed with Rosenbury’s energy and foresight.

“What I’ve seen going to the meetings for the past five years is that she is just so proactive on identifying challenges, and just fixing them, from every angle.”

When Rosenbury was first installed, she called every newly admitted law student to welcome them, Andersen said.

When a board member asked Rosenbury to explain why UF Law was consistently ranking behind the University of Alabama, Andersen said he expected her to respond with a vague promise.

“She said the first thing she did was to meet with the former dean of the University of Alabama, and get a list of 18 things that he did,” Andersen said. “She said it would take time, but we would rise to that level and exceed them, and I believe we have.”

One of the secrets to Rosenbury’s success is her willingness to travel the state and establish relationships with successful alumni, and secure more financial support, Andersen said.

In the past five years, Rosenbury has been credited with helping generate $55 million in donations from alumni and friends.

When she was hired, Rosenbury promised to keep the curriculum aligned with a changing profession. To that end, she established an Office of Career and Professional Development.

“I would also say that we’ve been increasingly focused on the intersection of law and technology,” Rosenbury said.

This fall, the school expects to welcome a senior professor from the University of Houston as a joint professor in the UF College of Law and College of Engineering “to help us on various initiatives related to artificial intelligence and the intersection of law and technology more broadly,” Rosenbury said.

The immediate future for college and law school graduates may look grim as the pandemic continues to devastate the economy. But Rosenbury said UF Law students will have a leg up during the recovery.

“We have an amazing alumni network that mentors our students and very much wants to connect our students to jobs,” she said. “You know, gators hire gators is a phrase that I use all of the time and it’s absolutely true, it’s not just a slogan.”

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