Board of Trustees Chair Parker S. Kennedy knew he wanted to build on his and his family’s impact on Chapman University. He just wasn’t quite sure how.
So, he asked President Daniele C. Struppa and Chapman’s Chief Advancement Officer Matt Parlow to share their vision for how Kennedy could profoundly influence the university’s strategic priorities, said Kennedy, chair of the university Board of Trustees and son of prolific Fowler School of Law benefactor and building namesake Donald P. Kennedy.
Together, they crafted a gift to support several key elements of Chapman’s five-year strategic plan.
The result was nothing short of unprecedented.
At an Aug. 24 welcome reception for new law school Dean Paul Paton, Struppa announced a $15 million gift from Kennedy – one of the largest gifts in Chapman history. Ten million is designated for student recruitment and scholarships to bring top talent to the law school, and $1 million will elevate the Parker S. Kennedy Professor of Law to the Parker S. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Law.
The allocation of the remaining $4 million of his gift will be announced at a later date.
“Fowler School of Law is what it is today because of the support of the Kennedy family,” Parlow said. “Their name and impact at the Fowler School of Law can be seen in so many ways and have driven us to such tremendous success. Their continued support with Park’s incredible gift will allow Chapman to reach even greater heights in the future because of his leadership and vision.”
The announcement was a big surprise to Paton, whose gratitude registered on his face.
“I’m honored to occupy the chair named for Donald P. Kennedy, and to have met you, Parker, with your commitment to the university and law school,” Paton said.
Kennedy’s gift will give Paton another tool to continue drawing top-tier students to Fowler School of Law as it continues rising in the national rankings.
“This endowed scholarship fund will help us recruit the best and brightest students,” Parlow said. “Fowler School of Law has been experiencing such great momentum and is on a terrific trajectory, and Dean Paton is the right leader to take us to new heights in the future.”
Parker Kennedy said Fowler School of Law was his father’s “favorite thing.”
“It’s nice to be able to continue that effort on behalf of our family, and the fact it’s going toward scholarships is really great,” he said.
The Fowler School of Law has been on an upward trend in recruiting the academically strongest and most diverse classes in its history in recent years. Since 2016, the increases in the median LSAT and GPA for incoming classes have been some of the biggest gains of any law school nationwide.
“That’s a big part of the rankings – what their test scores were, whether they get employment when they graduate, whether they pass the bar. We need to get the best students we can get,” said Kennedy, a member of the California Bar Association who practiced law for four years with a Beverly Hills firm.
Fowler School of Law is continuing its climb toward the nation’s top 100 law schools, rising from No. 118 to No. 109 in the new Best Law Schools rankings released last May by U.S. News & World Report.
“This gift will really allow the law school to rise to new heights, and that’s because of your incredible generosity,” Struppa said at the reception.
The gift elevates Chapman’s strategic plan goals to raise $500 million through its Inspire campaign and to support academic excellence. More than $347 million has been raised.
“We are tremendously grateful to Park for continuing his father’s legacy of generosity to Chapman,” said campaign co-chair Jim Mazzo. “Park’s incredible gift will enable us to recruit top students to the Fowler School of Law.”
At the Aug. 24 reception, two new busts of historical figures were unveiled to celebrate the special occasion: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, sponsored by Trustee Phil Case; and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, sponsored by Parlow and his wife, law Professor Janine Kim. O’Connor was the first woman Supreme Court justice and Marshall was the high court’s first Black justice.
Parker S. Kennedy served as the chairman and CEO of Fortune 500 company First American Corporation from 2003 to 2010, following his father. He also chaired First Advantage Corporation, a Nasdaq company ultimately sold to private equity, and was president of the American Land Title Association.
Kennedy, who joined First American in 1977, was elected to its board in 1987. During his tenure, he served the company in a variety of local and national roles, including branch manager, national sales director and president before his promotion to chairman and CEO. In 2003, Kennedy was recognized as one of the nation’s top chief executives on Forbes’ “Best-Performing Bosses” list.
He has served on the boards of a variety of businesses and nonprofits, including the Automobile Club of Southern California, Viant Technology, the Fletcher Jones Foundation, the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce and the Bowers Museum.
An Orange native, Kennedy and his wife Sherry have two children and four grandchildren.
In 2018, Kennedy gave $1 million to the Fowler School of Law to create several professorships and create an excellence fund for the faculty.