The de la Cruz-Mentschikoff Endowed Chair in Law and Economics is not just another honor. It is a legacy of talented people whose lives intersected at the University of Miami more than three decades ago.
On October 6, Fred McChesney, JD '78, became the first Miami Law alumnus to be granted a chair. He was formally bestowed the honor during a ceremony at the Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center. For McChesney, and for many who were in the room, the evening was about celebrating the return of an old friend and honoring the spirit of scholarship.
Addressing the audience, University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala said Prof. McChesney's appointment to the chair was "both an academic achievement and a tribute to the true fellowship our law school represents."
President Shalala remarked that many people were unaware that she and the late Soia Mentschikoff had met years ago, during one of the younger woman's previous stints at the head of an academic institution, at Hunter College in New York. Mentschikoff came to see her and offered to give her some "advice" on running the college. The conversation lasted three hours, Shalala said, drawing laughter from the crowd. "She told me that she went to college at 15, majored in English and political science, which was my first inkling at how interdisciplinary she felt the law ought to be," President Shalala said.
When Mentschikoff became the dean at Miami Law, she supported Professor Henry Manne in creating the Law and Economics Center. McChesney was one of its first students.
After graduating from law school, Prof. McChesney received a Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in Economics and become a major figure in the confluence of business, finance and law, with teaching positions in the law schools of Cornell, Emory and Northwestern and a stint as an associate director at the Federal Trade Commission. While at Northwestern, Professor McChesney held a joint appointment in the schools of law and business and was holder of the James B. Haddad Professorship.
"What an accomplishment to get scholars and people like that out of the program," Manne said during the reception. "It really makes me feel good." With a tremor in his voice, he added that three of his "protégés" – McChesney, Henry Butler and Tim Murris – were in attendance.
Miami Law alumnus Carlos M. de la Cruz Sr. established the chair to honor Mentschikoff, the first female dean of the school. "Soia's performance as a teacher was also memorable," de la Cruz said. "Her influence as a teacher extended beyond the classrooms."
Dean Patricia D. White attested to Mentschikoff's impact. She told of how in 1974, when she had graduated from University of Michigan Law School, she was one of 17 women in a class of 400. The same year, Mentschikoff became dean at Miami Law. "This made an enormous impression on me," Dean White said. "It has been a great privilege and personal privilege to be able serve as dean of the school where she also served as dean."
When his turn came to speak, Prof. McChesney made sure to thank all those who supported him along the way, including two students, Amy Araya and Craig Applebaum, who began a petition last spring to bring Prof. McChesney, who had been a visiting professor, onto Miami Law's faculty full-time.
Araya and Applebaum got approximately 500 signatures. "We wanted the administration to know that students wanted him," said Applebaum, who credits McChesney with being a great teacher. "For a long time, I was waiting to feel passionate about something," he said. "I took one class with him and then it clicked. It's because he's so great that we wanted him here. He's an incredible human being."