When Ronald Chen, Co-Dean of Rutgers Law School in Newark, steps down in June to return to being a full-time professor, he will leave behind a legacy that will help future students gain valuable experience in public interest law.
Chen has started a Public Service Internship Fund that will endow stipends for Rutgers Law students who work on internships in the public sector. Pledging $100,000 of his own money to start the fund, it will pay $5,000 to law students who have “shown merit and a history of overcoming challenges to enable the student to pursue a summer placement promoting social justice or public interest law in government service or for a public interest legal organization.” With Chen’s gift and the support of his classmates, the fund already has pledges for $175,000, which will establish the first, and possibly second, internships this summer.
”So many of our students come to Rutgers passionate about a career in public interest law and advocacy. I want this internship to give them the opportunity to take their first steps at pursuing that passion, especially for those who need some support in order to accept a position that may give excellent experience although unpaid,” said Chen.
Recently, a group of 40 alumni who attended law school with Chen came together to honor his service and to support the new fund at a reception at the home of his classmate, Nader Tavakoli ’83, co-chaired by Robert Friedman ’83.
Though he has spent the last 18 years as a vice dean, acting dean, dean, and co-dean at Rutgers Law, Chen also has a long history of public advocacy work as an attorney. He is a long time member of the National Board of the ACLU and was recently elected as its General Counsel.
He served as Public Advocate for the State of New Jersey from 2006-2010. As the Public Advocate, he championed eminent domain reform, voter rights, affordable housing, affordable energy for ratepayers, and protection against childhood lead poisoning. And at Rutgers, he actively protected constitutional rights working with students in the school’s Constitutional Rights Clinic.
Co-Dean Chen graduated from Rutgers Law School in 1983 and was a member of the school’s signature Minority Student Program, and for a short time, also served as the program’s acting dean. Tavakoli said, “I’ve known Ron since pretty much the day we started. We shared an office as editors of the Law Review. Ron was incredibly committed to school then and remained committed. He is the most loyal and passionate person at an institution with whom he’s had a relationship.”
Chen reflected on his time at Rutgers, “Those were known as the days of the People’s Electric Law School. We were passionately committed to use the law as social change. We still are.” In the years since, Chen said the school’s commitment to advocacy work has continued. Its legal clinics help clients in the community, in addition to pro bono and public interest programs, and its faculty-led academic centers focus on public scholarship.
To support the Ronald K. Chen Public Service Internship Fund, go to the law school’s Giving Page: go.rutgers.edu/maeek74v Select the choice “Other” and write in “Chen Public Service Internship F760537.”