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The Beasley Scholar: Reviewing a Remarkable Gift

by Hyman Lovitz

Fall 2001, Vol. 64, No. 3

Paralleling the increase in the cost of living over the past fifty years, we have seen a constant rise in tuition costs. Temple University's law school, which is primarily funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, provides a lower cost for its students than the law schools in the Ivy League. The mission of the school is to provide quality education to all. But as its tuition approaches $10,000 for Pennsylvania residents and $17,000 for nonresidents, its mission is becoming more difficult to fulfill. Financial aid is imperative for those students with financial limitations. It is less likely that the high cost for tuition and the increased cost of living can be paid for by wages earned while attending school.

Gone are the days when the tuition was $750 per year and an ambitious student could attend evening school and pay the tuition by managing full-time employment. Working to pay for tuition and living expenses is not feasible under current economics. The alternative is to become indentured to a long-term student loan. Because it will only pay for tuition, it is insufficient for those students who do not have the income or support to pay their living expenses while they are attending school.

As a consequence, before 1999 many people had to give up their dream of going to Temple Law School. In September 1999, however, there were thirteen students who, despite being financially limited, were admitted with the incoming class. They were awarded full scholarships and were the first to be known as Beasley Scholars.

"Beasley Scholar" is not yet a household phrase, but its significance will become commonplace in the legal profession, particularly in the Greater Philadelphia area, and surely it will become meaningful in the minds of many young and aspiring attorneys. Beasley Scholars are chosen as such because they qualify for admission to study law at Temple University's James E. Beasley School of Law and demonstrate specific financial needs. When the scholarship is awarded, it will include a grant to pay for tuition and living expenses and will provide the recipient an opportunity to study law at one of the nation's premier law schools.

The money to provide the grants will come from an endowment established by a prominent Philadelphia lawyer. The amount was of such magnitude that it motivated the Board of Trustees of Temple University on February 25, 1999 to honor that lawyer by changing the name of its law school to the "James E. Beasley School of Law of Temple University."

The gift provides that the income from the endowment is to be used for full scholarship grants to students and for the faculty to increase its excellence. The faculty will receive half of the income from the endowment, which will be distributed and administered by the dean of the law school. It will be expended for the good of the school to increase faculty scholarship. It will permit an increased number of research projects and will provide funds for research assistants and for faculty attendance at academic conferences. Since the time of the gift, there has been a significant increase in scholarship production. It is the school's hope that the faculty will be recognized as one of the most productive in this country.

The number of scholarships for students will increase with the growth of the endowment fund. The 2000 entering class received nineteen scholarships, and the 2001 entering class received twenty-eight scholarships. When the endowment is fully funded, it will provide for seventy-five scholarships to each class. There are now about 300 students in a new class. If that number remains constant, then about twenty-five percent of the students in each new class will be Beasley Scholars.

In the fall of 1999, a number of upper-level students who did not qualify as beneficiaries under the endowment were in need of financial aid. Showing flexibility from the confines of his own agreement with the University, James Beasley responded with a supplemental gift to the school to alleviate their financial concerns.

It is indeed a fact of history that philanthropic gifts have been the salvation and the foundation for many educational institutions of this land. The Beasley gift is not an exception. The historical mission of Temple Law School always has been to provide a high-quality legal education in an accessible way to those students who are qualified but do not have the financial means to attend. The gift by Beasley was made at a time when the mission of the school was in jeopardy. Accordingly, it was accepted gratefully by the Board of Trustees, but, regrettably, not by all members of the legal community. It has been marked with controversy patently stemming from the fact that the name of the school was changed. If that had not occurred, the gift would have caused only a mild stir. But the emotions of graduates tend to flare when the name of their school is changed. Add to that fire a fuel that contains only a few facts about how much was given to warrant the change.

As a result, there is a guessing game afoot about the total amount of the gift. The issue has caused a question of an insidious nature to rear its ugly head. It has been asked whether the name change was the quid pro quo for the gift. Its corollary leads to a base inference that school names are available to the highest bidding contributor. Letters to the editor of The Legal Intelligencer expressing disfavor have been printed. And there have been a number of private letters sent directly to the donor, expressing anger and couched in terms of "hate mail." But are these reactions justified or were they merely based upon inadequate information? Opinions can be wrong if they are predicated upon erroneous assumptions and a lack of facts.

It is important to understand why a confidentiality clause was inserted in the agreement. It is there simply because it was a matter of importance to James Beasley, a person who possesses a strong desire for privacy of his estate value. It is true that some benefactors want the world to know how much they have and how much they gave. And then there are those with a different slant, such as that great benefactor, "anonymous."

Of known facts indicative of the amount of the gift, the most salient one is a public document that sets forth the resolution adopted by the Executive Committee on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Temple University on February 25, 1999, wherein the University officially acknowledged that a "remarkable gift" was made by a distinguished alumnus, leading to the establishment of the largest endowment in the history of Temple University. (Prior to 1999, the largest gift was reported in 1985 by way of a bequest in the amount of five million dollars. The school responded by renaming its music school The Esther Boyer College of Music.) It is also a known fact that the gift by Beasley is the second largest amount ever given to any law school in the United States. (The largest was given to the College of Law of the University of Arizona.)

At the time the resolution was adopted, an amount was paid to begin the funding of the endowment. That amount has not been publicly announced. However, when reviewing published reports by the law school regarding contributions for the fiscal year of 1999, it is reasonable to conclude that the first installment was about ten million dollars.

Of germane interest are the events that led to the decision to change the name of the school. Beasley taught Civil Trial Techniques at Temple Law School from 1976 to 1980 and has been a guest lecturer at the school. He developed a close relationship with Peter J. Liacouras, current chancellor and former president of Temple University and a previous dean of the law school, and Robert J. Reinstein, the current dean of the law school. Ever mindful of the importance of fund raising, the two school officials continually would spin conversations with Beasley about his becoming a contributor. The idea took root and numbers began to enter into their discussions. As they continued, the numbers began to escalate and head in the direction of the stratosphere. It was agreed that an endowment would be established and that it would be funded by a series of installments. The funding would come to full fruition with a testamentary disposition. After a point, when Liacouras and Reinstein were able to catch their breath and have a private conversation, they decided that a gift of the magnitude being discussed warranted an honor of major significance. They therefore agreed to recommend to the Board of Trustees of Temple University that it would be eminently appropriate to recognize the contribution by changing the name of the law school to honor this benefactor.

There is no issue about whether the Board of Trustees of Temple University has the power to change the name of its law school. It is empowered to manage all aspects of the University by Act of Legislature.

A good comparison to the gift by James Beasley is the one noted earlier as the largest individual gift to a law school in the United States. It was made by James E. Rogers in 1998 to the College of Law of the University of Arizona. The initial gift consisted of a $20 million contribution. When this gift was made, the president of the University described it as "breathtaking," and the dean of the College of Law asked the Arizona Board of Regents to change the name of the college. It is now known as the "James E. Rogers College of Law." Rogers, a prominent businessman and the owner of a Las Vegas television station, made additional commitments for deferred contributions and for a testamentary disposition. The actual payments made, plus the commitments, have a current value of about $130 million.

In the past couple of years, there have been a number of major contributions made to Temple Law School by Philadelphia attorneys. Murray H. Shusterman, who gave one million dollars in 1995, said that he was "delighted when I first heard that Jim Beasley made such a magnificent gift to the School of Law." Leonard Barrack, who gave two million dollars in 1998, said "when the magnitude of the gift is overwhelming, then it is deserving of a name change. That's a big point for me." Shusterman Hall has been named in honor of Murray, and the new college hall will be named Barrack Hall, in honor of Leonard's parents, Norman and Sylvia Barrack. The law school more recently received nine million dollars from the estate of Leonard Rubin, who died in 1999. He requested in his will only that a modest plaque be placed in the school library.

The Beasley School of Law, in the structure of the University, is a designated department. Pursuant to the gift instrument, the law school is the beneficiary of the endowment fund. Therefore, the discretion and responsibility for the application of the proceeds are in the hands of the administrators of the law school. Mary Louise C. Esten is the assistant dean for financial aid. Her committee established the criteria and procedures for the scholarships. Basically, the grants are given to the students who demonstrate merit and the need for financial aid. The applicants are requested to write essays to set forth their family background, their aspirations and achievements. The committee carefully reviews the essays and decides who is to be named a "Beasley Scholar."

Perhaps a letter written by one student who received a Beasley Scholarship best captures the themes of the other letters reviewed for this article. It reads, in part:

". . . The Beasley Scholarship represents everything that I have worked for in my life. Since my parents farm, money has never been plentiful. I knew from a very young age that if I wanted to attend college, I would have to finance it myself through scholarships and loans . . . (at college) I worked up to 40 hours a week at part-time jobs while taking a full class load to pay for my rent and car. The Beasley Scholarship has given me the opportunity to focus solely on my studies. I am grateful that I am able to go to school each day without having to worry about how I am going to pay for it. I sincerely appreciate Mr. Beasley's generosity."

There are countless students and graduates with stories similar or more dramatic than that of what James Beasley endured to become a lawyer. Fortunately, Beasley and many other graduates show their appreciation by making contributions based on related motivations. As Beasley put it, "I wanted to help other families whose children might not otherwise have been able to further their education."

The change of the school name waxes less in importance when compared to the boost it has given to the school. After all, "a rose by any other name smells the same." The school has not changed. It is as prestigious as ever and will continue to be so. The endowment has the indicia of a noble gesture with sincere ideals. It will, in time, benefit thousands of students.