When Shelley Broderick talks about the University of the District of Columbia Law School, she gets so excited she shifts from side to side, like a boxer readying for a match.
Broderick has been fighting for the school for 27 years. She stayed through what she calls “the dark days” because she believed in the school’s mission to enroll women and minority students typically underrepresented in law. “This country is filled with law schools training privileged people to represent privileged people,” she says.
Once called Antioch, the law school went from private to public funding in the 1980s. It was nearly shuttered when its budget was slashed by the DC Council in 1995. Broderick helped lead the school’s merger with UDC and found a way to keep it running even though it didn’t have full accreditation, enrollments dwindled, half the faculty was let go, and tuition doubled.
Today, students study in a $1.6-million library. Last year the school got 1,400 applications for 100 slots. Five years ago, 22 percent of students passed the bar the first time they took the exam; now it’s 60 percent.
Broderick says 55 percent of students are minorities, with 30 percent African-American and 12 percent Hispanic—some of the highest minority numbers at any law school.
A native of Maine, Broderick came to Washington in 1969 wrapped up in antiwar protests. After graduating from American University, she went to Georgetown’s law school. She got a job running the criminal-law clinic at Antioch.
Broderick, 54, lives in Cleveland Park with her husband, John Clegg, a contractor, and her 14-year-old daughter, Isabella. She can be a little high-strung. “Okay, I’m a workaholic,” she says. She recently dropped her BlackBerry in the tub.
Says Broderick: “I’m the lowest-paid law dean in America. I stay for the mission. This is a unique and magical place.”