Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
The University of Washington’s Law School’s Centennial Inaugural Lecture
October 11, 1999
COMMITING TO EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION
Thank you for that kind introduction, Dean Ron Hjorth. It’s great to be here—or should I say it’s great to finally be here? My 1972 application for admittance into this school seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle…
We are gathered here today to celebrate the kick-off of the celebration of the Law School’s centennial. Today also would have also been the 76th birthday of Professor Ralph Johnson who taught here for forty-four years. I’d like to take a moment to honor his memory. Professor Johnson inspired generations of law students. His groundbreaking work in the area of Indian Law was cited many times by federal courts and the US Supreme Court. He spent his life fighting for the rights of Native American people and the sanctity of Native American treaties. He was a strong force. Let’s dedicate whatever dreams we begin together today to the memory of Professor Ralph Johnson.
The University of Washington Law School has a long and fascinating history, my application getting lost in the shuffle being just a small part of that history.
One hundred years ago, this Law School held its first classes. There were two professors, twenty-six students, a budget of $2,500, and a library that was once transported in two wheelbarrow loads. Tuition the first year was $25.
Today, there are more than fifty professors, some 650 students, a budget of millions, and a library that couldn’t be transported with a thousand wheelbarrows. And tuition? Well. . . you know what that is.
The University of Washington Law School has become one of the leading educators of lawyers in the West. It is also on the cutting edge of specialized fields such as intellectual property and emerging technology. And the Law School recently received $1.5 million from private donors to develop a new law, commerce, and technology center. Congratulations.
Yes, the Law School has come far. The Law School had to move seven times in the first ten years of its existence. It moved from downtown to the attic of Denny Hall to the Oregon Building of the Alaska-Yukon exposition. It had to move out of the Oregon building when it was condemned. But the Law School eventually found a permanent home, here on the UW campus. And you’re about to move again! It’s rumored the new building will be less concrete and more complete—and 40% larger.
John Condon would have been pleased and proud. John Condon was the first dean and the first professor of the school, and during his 30 years of leadership the Law School gained national eminence by receiving a “Class A” rating from the American Bar Association and recognition by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachers.
Dean Condon’s greatest legacy was probably his breadth of vision. In an era when women lawyers were virtually unknown, his first classes contained four female students. The doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson had just been announced; the Chinese Riots were still fresh in the public mind, yet his initial class contained a black student and a student from Japan.
Dean Condon understood that everybody had the right to pursue the American Dream of a higher education. I obviously didn’t know Dean Condon, but I believe we would have been friends. I also believe Dean Condon would have shared my dreams of education reform.
You all know that education is my number one priority. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. Education is society’s great equalizer and the economy’s great energizer. The surest way to strengthen our economy is to strengthen our education system.
You will be the 100th class to graduate from this Law School. What will the keynote speaker be saying about you, 100 years from now, on the threshold of the 22nd century?
Well, I see the Governor of Washington State—whoever that may be a hundred years hence—standing up here and telling the class of 2202 about the commitment the class of 2002 made to ensuring that Washington State has the strongest educational system in the nation. I see that governor laughing at how large our elementary class sizes are today. I see him laughing about how public education only went through grade 12. And I see him attributing the improvements to you.
All told, this room represents thousands of hours of education and that’s stunning. Now what if you became the first class wherein every member dedicated a portion of the time you’ve spent on your own education helping to ensure that Washington State has the strongest educational system in the nation?
Dean Condon was known for his breadth of vision. Inherit his legacy. Share my vision of making Washington State a State of Learning. Help us achieve our “Excellence in Education” agenda.
Our children are our future. We’ve got to insist on excellence in education now. When it comes to education, it’s pay now or pay an awfully lot more later. Or worse, crash later.
As we barrel into the 21st century, we can’t leave anyone behind. We have to be impatient, not complacent! We can’t lull ourselves into believing that just because we’ve put higher academic standards in place that we can just sit back and wait for the harvest. We’ve done great work by putting the standards in place, but frankly, the hard work has just begun. We need to be able to reward those students who meet the standards, and intervene when schools aren’t performing well.
This last two weeks I’ve been around our state hand-delivering some of the 2,300 Washington Promise Scholarships to the top high school graduates of 1999. These students are in their first weeks of classes as college freshman. These scholarships are available for low-income and middle-income students. 80% of these recipients did not financially qualify for any other state financial aid. We are trying to make the American dream of a college education affordable and obtainable for working, middle-class families.
It was great to see the parents, the grandparents, entire families attending these ceremonies honoring kids who represented the first in their families ever to attend college.
These students earned scholarships by scoring in the top ten percent of their senior classes. Next year we’ll be able to move that to fifteen percent. But fifteen percent isn’t enough. We want every child who achieves in high school to have the opportunity to pursue a college education. Because if we don’t reward our children for excelling, they will have no incentive to do so.
I don’t mean to imply that we haven’t already moved heaven and earth to reform our education system. Because we have. But we can’t stop NOW. If we stop now, we’ll lose our momentum and roll back down the hill to where we were two years ago when only 47% of our fourth graders met the tough new standards in reading.
We’re up to 60% now, but what incentive do our children have to meet those standards if they can’t afford to go to college after meeting our new standards? And what incentive do teachers have to get our children there?
We’ve raised teachers’ salaries to ensure that we attract and retain the brightest teachers in America. And that’s great. And we’ve instigated salary bonuses for teachers who go the extra mile and obtain national board certification. And that’s great, too, but we also need to impose standards and tests for teachers to ensure competence. And we need to reward the teachers and schools that improve student achievement and intervene if they don’t.
We also need to reduce our class sizes to increase the amount of individualized contact between students and their teachers. We’ve learned a lot from our Washington Reading Corps program. When those initial test stores came back a couple of years ago, and only 47% of our fourth graders were reading at the standards, we knew we had to do something.
So we created the Reading Corps, which is a one-on-one tutoring program. Last year more than 11,000 volunteers stepped up to the plate and tutored more than 22,000 struggling readers in our schools with one-on-one reading instruction. And guess what? The reading ability of those 22,000 students jumped dramatically. And while not every student in a school was part of the Reading Corps, the test scores of whole schools improved at twice the rate of schools that didn’t have Reading Corps Programs.
So imagine the benefits we could reap from reducing class sizes to allow more individualized instruction?
This is a crucial time. If we don’t continue to push forward with education reform, all of the work we have done so far will be pointless. At the 1999 National Education Summit in New York last week, IBM chief Lou Gerstner said, “We’ve got to have the guts and the political will to press forward with the commitments we’ve made to one another, to our nation, and most importantly to our kids and their future.”
All of us in this room have got to make that commitment.
I promise I will remain committed to creating the strongest education system in the nation. I will not slow down until every child meets our tough, new education standards and is rewarded for doing so. I will not slow down until every teacher is testing for competence and is rewarded for excellence. I will not slow down until the bridge between the economy and education is so strong that no blast will shake it.
Join me in this commitment. The great German philosopher, Goethe, said “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the choice to draw back, always ineffectiveness.”
Well, I urge you today to commit to the education of our children. I urge you to volunteer in our Washington Reading Corps. Call 1-800-323-2550 and get involved. Join me in my commitment to institute teacher testing, to reduce class size, and to keep the Promise Scholarship program going strong. Let’s not leave a single child behind as we enter an exciting new high-tech, global century.
H.G. Wells said that history is a race between education and catastrophe. Well, the race is on and the future is here. Education is freedom, and it is our responsibility as the educated members of society to pass on the gift, and sustain the land of the free—to make Washington State a State of Learning.
This Law School has already made great contributions to our society, by teaching the likes of Congressman Norm Dicks, Adam Smith, Speaker Tom Foley and Bill Gates Senior, to name only a few. There are also at least 110 alumni who are judges or commissioners in all levels of the court system. Imagine the impact you will have, if you all commit together to excellence in education.
The eyes of our state are upon you—the 100th graduating class of this great Law School. I know I can count on you to join me in pursuing “Excellence in Education”…in making Washington a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family.
Thank you all, and good luck in your studies, in your futures, and in your use of your legal education from this great Law School.