SALT LAKE CITY — About a week after Bob Adler laid out an audacious goal for the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, the 60-year-old dean decided to support it with an equally bold personal goal.
“I was on a bike ride, and I was thinking about how sad it is that I can’t run 100-mile races while I’m dean, because it takes so much training time,” said Adler, who was chosen to lead the law school in July 2014. “And then I thought, ‘Maybe I should run a 100-mile race in support of the 100/100 Initiative, and use it as motivation for our alumni to give scholarship money.”
He did just that, crossing the finish line of the Zion 100 on a Saturday morning earlier this month along with three law school students, who joined him the last eight miles of the race. Adler completed the race in 25:53.
The mileage he covered in the scenic Utah desert had one purpose — to raise scholarship money. But it also raised awareness about the issues that keep students from attending and graduating as well as what causes some students to fail their first bar exam.
That’s where the connection to the 100/100 Initiative came into the picture. The program aspires to have 100 percent of the school's students graduate and 100 percent of them pass the bar exam the first time they take it.
The fact that the school may never actually reach that goal doesn’t bother a guy who has now finished four 100-mile races in his life. That’s because he’s also failed to finish several ultra marathons.
“I believe in aspirational goals because they push you to do better,” said Adler. “We’re going to keep re-evaluating as long as we don’t make those goals, and no matter what, our students are going to be better off.”
It’s something he learned running those 100-mile races. When he failed, he looked at what worked, what didn’t, how he could change his training, nutrition or strategy. He said that is the same effort he believes the law school staff and administration will apply to graduation rates and bar passage numbers if the goal is always 100 percent.
His effort attracted support from students, alumni and even other law school deans. The fundraising effort was a pledge drive of sorts that occurred online.
For U. law students, the effort was an unusual show of solidarity they appreciated so much that they ran a 100-mile relay the day before the Zion 100 to show support for Adler.
Will Edwards is a law school student who traveled to Virgin, Utah, to finish with the dean.
“I think it’s great,” Edwards said. “It’s a real feat. It’s different from going around and talking about it, talking with potential donors. All of that can help, but to go out and run 100 miles, and to do that to raise awareness, it’s kind of putting himself on the line. I think it’s a real statement of support that he’s willing to go do something like that.”
Adler said the scholarship component is key to addressing some of the reasons why some students don’t graduate or can’t pass the bar for the first time. But it also addresses a number of other issues, like whether or not students can pursue the jobs they want or need because they’re not crippled by student loan debt.
“Affordability is key to 100/100,” Adler said. “Law students graduate with a lot of debt. Which means, during law school they have to work to pay off their debt, which makes it harder for them to focus on their studies, which affects their bar passage rates and graduate rates. And it prevents them from doing the clinical opportunities that are going to lead to rewarding jobs.”
It also prevents them from taking jobs in the nonprofit or government sector.
“Public defenders, for example, are really pretty low paid, but it’s an invaluable service to society to guarantee people’s constitutional rights,” Edwards said. “(Affordability) is an issue in all of education. It’s tough for anyone.”