A Gift of Gratitude

A law faculty member who wishes to remain anonymous has given a $3.5 million gift—the largest ever to Rutgers–Camden—supporting academically distinguished law students with an interest in public service

Standing, from left, Rutgers Law School in Camden Dean Kimberly Mutcherson and Rayman L. Solomon, former dean and University Professor; seated, from left, Solomon Scholars and first-year law students Eric Newman and Dara Omotayo. Photo by Jonathan Kolbe.

By Sam Starnes

Every year, the letters arrive.

Addressed to the Rutgers Law School in Camden faculty member who gave the school $3.5 million, the letters come from former students-turned practicing attorneys who found a required course the faculty member taught years before “complicated and abstract,” said the faculty member/donor who asked not to be named. “They’ll say, ‘You know what? I didn’t enjoy your class when I was taking it, but boy, I appreciate it now.’ Those are very gratifying moments.”

Those moments are among the key factors motivating the largest donation ever to Rutgers University–Camden. “I get a real rush from student success,” the faculty member/donor said. “If I hear about one of my students who has thrived or has conquered some great professional challenge, my heart just bursts with joy.”

The $3.5 million gift announced in January, combined with an earlier $50,000 gift in March 2020, launched the Rayman L. Solomon Scholars endowment, named for a former dean and designed to attract students to Rutgers Law School in Camden who have distinguished themselves academically and demonstrated a commitment to public service.

The faculty member/donor said other motivating factors for the gift include gratitude for the “institution that has given me so much” and the law school’s mission of offering access to all. “Rutgers Law School is first and foremost a tool of social transformation,” the faculty member/donor said. “It takes a lot of kids who are first-generation professionals and it gives them access to the most elite corners of our society—whether it’s in private practice, or in government, or the judiciary. I think that movement and transformation are critical to society. My hope is that by enhancing the profile of the school and its student body, this gift will open more such opportunities to all of our graduates.”

Kimberly Mutcherson, co-dean of Rutgers Law School, said “This gift is transformational in multiple ways. Rutgers Law School is nationally recognized for its commitment to providing an excellent legal education to a broad range of students. Thanks to this generous gift, Rutgers Law School will be able to recruit even more students with outstanding academic credentials. The Solomon Scholars will receive an annual stipend and a range of personalized programming to prepare them for elite careers in law.”

Scholars Committed to Service

Solomon Scholar Kobie Allen

Kobie Allen, a native of Franklinville in Gloucester County, New Jersey, is one of three first-year law students selected for the program in the 2020–2021 academic year. “I’m very humbled to be among the inaugural class of the Rayman L. Solomon Scholars, especially as a South Jersey native,” said Allen, a 2017 graduate of Williams College who recently worked as a paralegal in Cherry Hill.

Allen, who studied Arabic and political science at the American University in Cairo while an undergraduate, said his experience in Egypt had a profound impact on him. “Living abroad really opened my eyes to the value of the rights we have as Americans,” he said. “Yet, those rights are only as powerful as our ability to enforce and protect them. It is important to me that people have awareness of their rights and the ability to get legal help. Whether it’s consumer fraud, environmental damages, or anything in between, I want to be able to reach out and give legal assistance. If I’m using my degree to help people change their lives for the better, that’s the focus of the big picture.”

Solomon Scholar Dara Omotayo, a 2020 psychology graduate of Texas Tech University, said her experience as a teaching assistant in an undergraduate women’s studies course inspired her plan to pursue a career as an education lawyer. “Most of my students were Black men or young women, many of whom were just starting to grasp what it truly means to belong to minority groups in this country,” Omotayo said. “My experience with them inspired my passion for education and civil rights law.”

Eric Newman, a native of Wayne, New Jersey, is a Solomon Scholar who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a degree in economics with a concentration in real estate. He said he wants to build a successful career in real estate law while helping communities. “I want to be able to listen to people’s hopes and concerns with regards to their respective neighborhoods in order to do what I can to make those neighborhoods happier, healthier, safer, and more affordably livable places,” Newman said.

Solomon’s Legacy

Rayman L. Solomon

Solomon served as dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden from 1998 to 2014 and as provost of Rutgers University–Camden from 2014 to 2015. He remains on the Rutgers faculty as a University Professor of Law, one of the highest ranks bestowed by the university. “Under his leadership, the law school in Camden recruited a world-class faculty, heightened its national stature, and reinvigorated its commitment to social justice,” the faculty member/donor said. “He is a man of compassion and integrity, and I am proud that the Solomon Scholars program will build upon that legacy.”

One example of Solomon’s compassion and integrity is his work to commemorate Black victims of a massacre more than one hundred years ago in his childhood home of Helena, Arkansas, a small town on the Mississippi River. Although Solomon has not lived in Arkansas since the 1960s, he has visited frequently and remained in close contact with family and the community. “It’s part of who I am,” he said.

Solomon and his brother helped lead the effort to establish the Elaine Massacre Memorial, which was dedicated in Helena in 2019. Estimates are that between 150 and 200 Black sharecroppers were killed in 1919 in what has been called Arkansas’ deadliest racial conflict. “The people who died should be memorialized,” he said.

A scholar of legal history, Solomon has researched and written about how the court cases in the wake of the massacre influenced the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 that said racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional. “The Elaine Massacre is an important part of civil rights history that has not been told,” he said.

Solomon, who earned his undergraduate degree from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and both a J.D. and a Ph.D. in American legal history from the University of Chicago, worked for the American Bar Foundation and Northwestern University before arriving at Rutgers Law School in Camden 23 years ago. During his tenure as dean of the law school, he hired more than one-thirdof the current faculty, expanded the clinical and pro bono programs, and extensively redesigned the curriculum. He also oversaw capital campaigns and the construction of the new law building that added 50,000 square feet of space to the law school. “He did a spectacular job as dean,” the faculty member/donor said. “He built an outstanding faculty and built the new building, which nobody thought we would ever get. He is universally liked and respected by faculty and students alike, and he seemed like a really appropriate person to name the program after to honor him for his service and values.”

Solomon is moved by the gift named for him. “I am deeply honored by this incredible demonstration of selfless generosity made in my name by a valued friend and colleague,” he said. “While I may have been surprised that it was done in my name, I was not at all surprised by the donor’s commitment to helping our students, to strengthening the academic community at Rutgers Law School, and to furthering the goal of training graduates who are dedicated to improving the lives of every American. I am confident that this program will succeed in fulfilling this ambitious vision.”

Solomon said the gift will have significant impact on not just the students it helps, but for the entire the school. “By recruiting high-achieving students who demonstrate their commitment to public service, this innovative program will elevate Rutgers Law to the next level of prominence as a national public law school,” he said.

Hope of Inspiring More Gifts

The faculty member/donor is hopeful that the $3.5 million gift will inspire more gifts to support the work the university does. “Rutgers Law doesn’t attract the kind of gifts that comparable private schools regularly get. That’s a shame, because the level of state support has been going down. Gifts are critical to the well-being of the university. I’m happy to give the gift, but hopefully inspire others as well.”

The faculty member/donor also hopes that someone will soon make a donation that exceeds their gift as the largest ever given to Rutgers University–Camden. “That would be wonderful,” the faculty member/donor said. “It’s a record I would gladly cede.”

For information about giving to Rutgers Law, visit law.rutgers.edu/giving or contact Robin Todd at 856-225-6682 or robin.todd@rutgers.edu.

Posted in: 2021 Spring

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