Small-town upbringing inspired love of law
Justice Stephen Breyer and Dean Rachel Moran
Rachel Moran is not in Kansas anymore, much to the delight of the UCLA Law School.
Moran assumes her role as the new dean of the law school on Oct. 15, following a circuitous route that took her from Kansas City, Mo. — where she was born — to several different cities along the way, including Kansas City, Kan., Calexico, Calif., and Yuma, Ariz., where Moran spent most of her formative years.
The first Latina dean of a Top 20 law school, Moran wouldn’t realize until later that life in the sleepy border town of Yuma (then population <28,000) would serve as an inspiration for her legal career. She loved the stories that her Irish father, a criminal defense attorney, would tell her and her younger brother about things that had happened in court. Moran’s Mexican mother was a teacher who sometimes served as a court interpreter for her husband.
“My dad did not push me to be a lawyer. He felt that I should do what would make me happy,” Moran said. “He never felt the need to replicate himself — he felt we were individuals, and he always treated us very much as individuals.”
The foundation, however, was laid. Moran entered Stanford University as a psychology major, but changed her mind after assisting her professors with research involving the League of Women Voters. The league was contemplating taking legal action against the U.S. Department of Labor for neglecting to publish guidelines for women who were interested in entering the construction industry.
According to the Department of Labor, women were simply not interested in construction jobs, Moran recalled. However, surveys conducted by Moran and her professors provided the league with proof that women were indeed interested, and the Department of Labor ultimately instituted guidelines for women.
“Later, I was driving with my parents and I saw this highway project,” Moran recalled. “One of the people wearing hard hats stood up. It was a woman working on this project. I think at that moment, I felt that law had such a tremendous capacity to alter people’s lives that I decided to pursue a law degree, rather than a Ph.D. in psychology.”
Moran’s focus at Yale Law School was on bilingual education and on the question of whether language should be subjected to heightened scrutiny in the same way that race, ethnicity, national origin and gender are. After she graduated in 1981, she clerked for Chief Judge Wilfred Feinberg on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, followed by a stint at the San Francisco firm of Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe. In 1983, Moran joined the law faculty at Boalt at UC Berkeley, where she taught until her current appointment at UCLA.
Moran has published and lectured extensively on education law and policy, family law, and civil rights and anti-discrimination law. She is the author or co-editor of three books, the most recent being “Race Law Stories” (Foundation Press, 2008). Her co-editor on the book, UCLA Law Professor Devon Carbado, said he is pleased that he will be working alongside his former collaborator.
“[Moran] has multiple strengths, not the least of which are her excellent administrative and communication skills, her creativity and yes-we-can spirit, her integrity, her deep and sophisticated knowledge of legal education, her intellectual acuity and her ability to connect with and listen to a variety of constituencies,” Carbado said.
For her part, Moran already has a number of goals in mind. First on her list is completion of the law school’s $100-million campaign to build on its endowment, which was begun by her predecessor, Michael Schill. The campaign has already garnered around $80 million.
Members of the UCLA Law School and International Institute faculty — from left, Dean Moran, David Kaye, Gail Kligman and Randal Johnson — met with Croatian President Ivo Josipović during his recent visit to campus.
The recruitment, retention and nurturing of UCLA’s law faculty are also high on her list, along with financial assistance for the law school’s student body. Moran is also determined to make sure that staff are recognized for “making the quality of life better” for everyone at the law school. As for alumni, she is looking forward to building public/private partnerships with them.
Moran is confident that, as she begins her deanship, UCLA Law School is in great shape. “People feel that the law school has made great gains, and they don’t see the momentum slackening. They feel good about the future,” she said.
“We just had [Supreme Court] Justice Stephen Breyer out here to give a talk to our students, and he said to me, ‘This is such a positive place; everyone seems so optimistic. What’s the secret of this climate you have?’ ” she said, laughing.
“It’s a very positive, optimistic place, and ultimately that is a huge asset,” she said. “I would never want to lose that sense of collegiality, shared purpose and belief in the future. That’s one of our great resources.”