Public Interest Law Center

Program History

NYU School of Law CampusNew York University’s motto—“a private university in the public service”—is a charge that the Law School takes very seriously. What sets NYU apart is its strong and long-standing commitment to public interest. As one part of this commitment, the Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program, founded in 1951, provides full tuition and other support to nurture leaders in public service.

The Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program was originally named in honor of Elihu Root (Class of 1867) and Samuel J. Tilden (Class of 1841), two alumni who epitomize the tradition of public service. The indictment of the powerful New York City “Boss” Tweed in 1871 marked the beginning of a political drama in which Root and Tilden played leading, and opposite, roles. Samuel J. Tilden led the Citizens Committee of Seventy that combatted the notorious Tweed Ring. Tilden’s successful prosecution of the Ring would propel him to a sweeping gubernatorial victory and later to within one electoral vote of the Presidency.

At the age of 26, Elihu Root was a junior member of a distinguished defense team representing Boss Tweed. Root subsequently became a United States Attorney in New York, Secretary of War under President McKinley, and Secretary of State under President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912, Root received the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to international 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 ’60, that began a major capital campaign to raise $30 million for the Program. To honor Mr. Kern’s generous contribution, the Law School renamed the Program as the Root-Tilden-Kern Scholarship Program. Mr. 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.

During its more than 50 year history, the scholarship has served as a role model for public service scholarships around the country. For example, in announcing the Gates Scholarship in 2006, the University of Washington stated that it had designed its program to model the Root-Tilden-Kern Program.