The Root-Tilden-Kern Program looks for students with a demonstrated commitment to the public interest, exceptional leadership ability, and a history of academic achievement. In assessing these criteria, the program looks at the whole person and considers previous life experience and professional work. The program values diversity and strives to select a class that is diverse in terms of race, sex, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geographic origins, and ideology. Interested candidates should submit an application with their application to New York University School of Law. The application is reviewed by a student and faculty committee before recommendation for an interview. Each year, approximately 50 applicants are invited to interview with a panel composed of a faculty member, a judge, a practitioner and third-year scholars. Twenty scholars are selected for each incoming class.
In the 1950s, Dean Emeritus Arthur Vanderbilt conceived of the Root-Tilden Scholarship to transform NYU from a local law school to a nationally and internationally esteemed institution. Founded in 1951, the purpose of the program was to “train promising young men so as to help attain again for the American bar the high position which it once held as the reservoir of altruistic and competent public leadership.”
The program was named for two alumni, Elihu Root and Samuel Tilden, who exemplified Vanderbilt's ideal – lawyers dedicated to public leadership. Twenty scholars were selected for the first class from each of the country's then ten judicial circuits. Scholars were at first required to take special courses in the humanities, social sciences, history and natural sciences and required to live together and share mealtimes five days a week. Scholars met with leaders in government, industry and finance. In 1969, after a campaign by student groups, the first women were admitted to the Root Program. To date, more than 800 Root-Tilden Scholars have graduated from NYU School of Law.
In 1998, then Dean John Sexton announced a precedent-setting gift of $5 million from an alumnus of the Root-Tilden Scholarship, Jerome H. Kern 1960, that began a major capital campaign to raise $30 million for the program. To honor Kern's generous contribution, the Law School renamed the program as the Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program. Kern is the chairman of Symphony Media Systems, LLC, and was formerly a senior partner of the law firm Baker & Botts. In 2004, under the leadership of Dean Richard Revesz, the Law School successfully completed its campaign goal of $30 million and now offers full-tuition scholarships to 20 students each year.
- Daniel Abrahamson, 1991, director of legal affairs, Drug Policy Alliance
- Jane Aiken, 1983, professor, Georgetown University Law Center
- Lamar Alexander, 1965, U.S. Senator (R-Tennessee)
- Mary Anderson, 1998, Chief of Policy and Special Counsel, Office of Illinois Attorney General
- Vicki Been, 1983, professor of law, NYU
- Jeremy Ben-Ami, 1990, executive director, J Street
- Pasco Middleton Bowman II, senior judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
- Murray Bring, 1959, former general counsel, Philip Morris, former Clerk, Earl Warren
- Thomas Buergenthal, 1960, judge, International Court of Justice
- Derwyn Bunton, 1998, chief public defender, Orleans Public Defenders Office
- Hamilton Candee, 1983, of counsel, Altshuler Berzon LLP
- Arthur B. Culvahouse, Jr., 1973, partner, O'Melveny & Myers LLP
- Diana DeGette, 1982, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Colorado)
- Donald Elliott, 1957, chairman, City Planning Commission
- Jim Exum, 1960, Former chief justice, Supreme Court of North Carolina
- Elaine Fink, 1980, managing attorney, Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati
- Anthony Foxx, 1996, Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation
- Karen Freedman, 1980, executive director, Lawyers for Children
- Margaret Fung, 1978, executive director, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund
- John Greaney, 1963, associate justice, Massachusetts Supreme Court
- Sharon Kang Hom, executive director, Human Rights in China
- Richard Joel, president, Yeshiva University
- Herbert Kelleher, co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines
- Jerome Kern, 1960, senior partner at Baker & Botts and Vice-Chair of TCI Telecommunications
- Dorchen Leidholdt, 1988, legal director, Sanctuary for Families
- Martin Lipton, 1954, founding partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz
- Nancy Lublin, 2001, CEO, Do Something
- Susan Malveaux, professor of law, Catholic University
- Bridget McCormack, Michigan Supreme Court Justice; professor of law; founder and co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School
- Douglas McFarland, professor, Hamline University and former U.S. Senate Candidate from Minnesota
- Roger M. Milgrim, 1961, author, Milgrim on Trade Secrets and Milgrim on Licensing
- James Milliken, president, University of Nebraska
- Nina Morrison, 1998, senior staff attorney, Innocence Project
- Geri Palast, 1976, executive director, Campaign for Fiscal Equality
- Peter Pitegoff, dean, University of Maine Law School
- Stewart Pollock, 1957, former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice
- Connie Rice, civil rights activist, co-founder of Advancement Project
- Janet Sabel, 1984, general counsel, Legal Aid Society of New York
- Michael Sarbanes, 1992, executive director, Citizens Planning and Housing Association
- Andrew Siegel, 1999, associate professor of law, University of Seattle
- Susan J. Sutherland, 1982, senior partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- Herbert Wachtell, 1954, founding partner, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz
- Seth Harris, 1990, deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Labor
- Steven W. Hawkins, 1988, executive vice-president, NAACP
- Peter Koneazny, 1983, litigation director, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee
- Felicia A. Marcus, 1983, Western Director, National Resources Defense Council
- Christopher Meade, 1996, principal deputy general counsel, U.S. Department of Treasury
- Wayne Outten, 1974, founding partner, Outten & Golden, LLP
- Zama Coursen-Neff, 1998, deputy director, Human Rights Watch
- Julie Brill, 1985, commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
- Andrew Siegel, 1999
- Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship
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- "How to Apply | NYU School of Law". Law.nyu.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
- "The Selection Process | NYU School of Law". Law.nyu.edu. 2016-04-06. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
- "Program History | NYU School of Law". Law.nyu.edu. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
- "Alumni | NYU School of Law". Law.nyu.edu. 2010-01-21. Retrieved 2016-05-07.