The Board of Visitors was created by the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Law Alumni Association in 1957 "... for the purpose of assisting in the development of a close and helpful relationship between the Law School and the University of Wisconsin Law Alumni on all matters of mutual interest including Law School facilities, curriculum, placement, admissions and public relations of the School and the Bar."
One of the first actions taken by the Board of Visitors was the support of a new Law School building separate from the joint Law School-Sociology building originally proposed by the University. The Board continued to monitor and support building the new facility through its completion.
Repeatedly through the years since the Board’s creation, the Board made suggestions for annual fund raising, obtaining scholarship funds, and seeking methods for increasing Law School faculty salaries. One of the many ideas for fund-raising included creating the Benchers Society in 1963, and since then the Benchers Society has been governed by the Board of Visitors. The Board also held meetings with the Chancellor to discuss concerns about financial support and the future of the Law School.
Since its creation, the Board has made many contributions toward the Law School curriculum. For example, in 1959 the Board suggested that a course in Ethics and Professional Responsibilities be offered. In 1965 the Board made recommendations for the summer Problems Course and set out proposals for standards for the student apprenticeship program.
The change in the demand for admissions to the Law School is also reflected in the history of the Board. In 1961 the Board of Visitors made suggestions for increasing the number of law students. However, as the demand for limited Law School availability increased in the late 1960's and early 1970's, the Board became involved in advising on questions of setting higher admissions standards.
The history of the Board of Visitors also reflects its inevitable involvement in the campus unrest of the late 1960's. The minutes reflect that the Board supported a Law School faculty resolution on the issues surrounding the National Guard’s presence on the UW campus in 1969.
In April 1969, Dean Spencer Kimball led the Board of Visitors on a discussion of the Visitor’s role and the Board reached a consensus that it would be desirable to "have the board assume a more active role in the life of the School and to acquaint itself with activities being carried on by the faculty and students." Since 1969, the Board on an annual basis has devoted at least one day each year to visiting classes and reviewing programs.
During the 1970's the Board of Visitors also responded to the needs of women and minority students in the Law School. In 1973 the Board was informed about the problems faced by women students and recommended a part-time program and a University Day Care Center. The following year, the Visitors supported a pledge that the Law School would not cooperate with recruiters who discriminated against women. In 1973 the board suggested that the Legal Education Opportunities Program be expanded with additional funding and staff. The Board in 1980 also recommended that greater efforts be made in the area of minority law student recruitment.
The 1970's and early 1980's also brought Board recommendations for improvement of the curriculum. In 1973 a recommendation was made that all clinical programs include faculty supervision. In 1976 the Board concentrated on the Legal Writing program and suggested that first year students have more opportunity to write in their regular courses. Suggestions for a system of faculty advisors and more guest lecturers were made in 1981.
The Visitors also became involved in concerns over administrative problems. In 1974 the board supported more administrative assistance for the Dean. The Visitors also recommended a change in the sign-up procedure for on-campus Interviews in 1980.
The 1970's also brought an increased concern for uncompetitively low faculty salaries, an issue the Board considered. In 1974 the Board suggested that another state-supported law school be considered to relieve overcrowding at the UW. In 1977 the Board faced the legislative mandate for a part time program which did not include additional state funding.
Committees similar to the UW Law School Board of Visitors have been formed at many other law schools. These Visitors, or Visiting Committees, also make class visits and many have had confidential sessions with the Dean. Some Visiting Committees have members who are not alumni of the law school. Typically these Visiting Committees have sub-committees for topics including the faculty, students, curriculum, and outside relations (i.e. University and legislature).
The Board of Visitors continues to perform the role originally set for the Board at the time of its creation in 1957. It assists in the development of close and helpful relationships between the Law School and the alumni in areas including Law School facilities (especially the library), curriculum, placement, admissions and public relations. In addition, as with its predecessors, the Board of Visitors continues to work toward improving faculty salaries and maintaining excellence at the Law School by encouraging increased financial support from both the legislature and the alumni.
In addition, the Board of Visitors continues the tradition started in 1969 to assume an active and visible role in the Law School by participating in class visitations. The Board is hopeful that it will be able to periodically offer suggestions for curriculum and administrative improvement through its discussions with students and faculty. Through the Visitations, the Board will seek to identify areas in which the Board can be helpful to the Law School, its students and staff.
Adopted by the Board of Visitors, 25 January 1985