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Somewhere in Deanell Tacha’s home in Lawrence, there’s a T-shirt with an image of the Kansas University campus statue of Jimmy Green, the first dean of KU’s School of Law.
It reads: “University of Michigan Law School West.”
Years ago, someone had it made as part of a joke among Tacha and other KU law professors who’d noticed that quite a few of them had earned their law degrees from Michigan. And the Michigan-to-KU law pipeline hasn’t ceased since Tacha, a Michigan Law grad, former U.S. Court of Appeals judge and now the law dean at Pepperdine University, left the KU law faculty in 1985. (She still maintains a residence in Lawrence.)
Seven of the law school’s 41 current full-time faculty members graduated from Michigan’s law school — a fact that becomes even more notable during a week like this, as the KU and Michigan men’s basketball teams prepare to face each other in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 on Friday.
“There’s been kind of a long, strong tradition between KU and the University of Michigan law school,” Tacha said in a phone interview from California, where she’s attending a different set of NCAA Tournament games this weekend in Los Angeles.
Though there may be more Michigan graduates roaming the law school’s Green Hall than there are anywhere else in Lawrence, and there may be a stray maize-and-blue souvenir cup or T-shirt floating around, the Michigan alumni who spoke with the Journal-World said they had no trouble choosing who they’d root for Friday.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of divided loyalties,” said professor Laura Hines, on the KU faculty since 1997. That’s true for her even though she’s still a big Michigan basketball fan, thanks to the team’s NCAA championship run in the spring of 1989, when she was a first-year law student there.
She’s a University of Iowa fan, too, having grown up nearby. But she’s got her allegiances figured out. “I’ve had to develop a hierarchy of preference over time,” Hines said, with KU on top.
For professor Lou Mulligan, hired in 2010, the choice may be even clearer: He grew up in Kansas and got his bachelor’s degree at KU before heading to the Michigan law school.
But his 5-year-old daughter was born in Ann Arbor, Mich., and she’s a Wolverines fan. In her NCAA bracket, she picked Michigan to beat KU and win the national title.
“So she’s grounded,” Mulligan said. “We’ll eventually correct that error.”
Professor Mike Davis, on the KU faculty since 1971, said the Michigan-KU law connection has been strong for decades. For one stretch, from 1968 to 1994, the KU law school was overseen by four consecutive deans with Michigan law degrees. (Two of them were Dickinson and Davis.)
Why’s the connection so strong? Well, Michigan’s law school is one of the best in the country, No. 9 in the most recent U.S. News and World Report rankings. That makes it a natural choice for high-achieving Midwestern students who opt for law school, which includes many members of the KU law faculty.
And those students, the KU faculty said, often prefer to stay in the Midwest after they earn their law degrees.
“I think we really appreciate Midwestern values and the way Midwesterners treat each other,” said Kronk, who grew up in Michigan.
Distinguished professor Elinor Schroeder earned bachelor’s and law degrees at Michigan before joining the KU faculty in 1977. She teaches employment law, and she says it’s typical for a law school to develop pipelines to certain areas where alumni have gone and been successful. For Michigan, the KU law school has become one of those.
Like the others, Schroeder says she’s firmly in the KU camp. But, also like the others, she acknowledged that Michigan football, with its six-digit-capacity “Big House,” is something special. She went to every game while she was in school.
“You haven’t been to a football game until you’ve been to one at Michigan,” Schroeder said.
For Davis, picking rooting preferences for the Kansas-Michigan game is actually a breeze compared with last week’s against the University of North Carolina. His son graduated from UNC, his wife lettered in two sports there, and he’s close friends with basketball coach Roy Williams, for whom he’s provided legal representation in the past. “That really was a conflict,” Davis said. “This is easy compared to that, at least.”
Even though she just came to KU less than a year ago, and she can talk at length about Michigan’s starting lineup, Kronk said KU and Lawrence had welcomed her with such open arms she’s had no choice but to become a Jayhawk fan first.
“It’s hard to imagine coming to Lawrence and not falling in love with it,” Kronk said.
Tacha also says her allegiance is squarely with KU — at least during basketball season. And, she said, there’s a big reason the other Michigan alumni down at Green Hall likely feel the same way. “We’ve got to go with a winner,” she said.