Lincoln philanthropist Phyllis Acklie has pledged a landmark gift to provide approximately 80 scholarships annually, as well as other financial support, to University of Nebraska College of Law students and to permanently endow the college’s Children’s Justice Clinic.
The Acklie Charitable Foundation, established by Phyllis and her late husband, College of Law alumnus Duane Acklie, made the gift commitment through the University of Nebraska Foundation. At the request of the donors, the total commitment amount will remain confidential.
“The education from the College of Law has had a monumental impact on multiple generations of our family, and there is no question we feel passionate about Nebraska Law, and how we believe it is currently shaping Nebraska’s next generation of leaders,” said Halley Kruse, the couple’s granddaughter and a 2014 alumna of the college.
With this gift commitment, the Acklie family is the largest donor in the College of Law’s history. The Acklie pledge will provide immediately spendable dollars to fund approximately 80 scholarships each year for the next nine years, as well as stipends and travel awards, to Nebraska Law students. The gift pledge also will provide permanent funding for the Children’s Justice Clinic, which gives legal representation to vulnerable Nebraska children, and ongoing support for the College of Law’s other law clinics.
Clinic programs address an increasing need in the community for legal services and give third-year law students an opportunity to represent actual clients, under the supervision of faculty members, and to have experiences comparable to what a new attorney might encounter.
“The overall impacts made by the Acklie family’s support of Nebraska Law are simply immeasurable,” said University of Nebraska–Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie D. Green. “This gift, combined with their previous and ongoing generosity, has led to library and classroom updates, cutting-edge curriculum development, expanded student support via scholarships and unique experiential learning opportunities through the clinics.
“Theirs is the deepest collective commitment to Nebraska’s flagship university,” Green added. “By benefiting generations of Nebraska Law graduates and their prior considerable support for students, faculty and programs in Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Business, Engineering and the Lied Center for Performing Arts, the Acklies are truly sowing good in the world.”
Richard Moberly, dean of the College of Law and Richard C. and Catherine S. Schmoker Professor of Law, also expressed gratitude to the Acklie family.
“The Acklie family’s long dedication to the College of Law started with Duane’s days working and studying in our library and has included the education of generations of family members. Their gifts have transformed our physical space and provided generous scholarships for our students,” Moberly said. “We are honored they continue to believe in our mission to develop inclusive leaders and are especially grateful for the support our students and programs will receive through this most recent gift. This gift marks the largest single gift in the college’s 132-year history and will significantly impact the ability of our students to serve their communities and advance justice for generations to come.”
The Acklie pledge will establish the College of Law Leadership and Scholarship Fund, which prioritizes scholarships for Nebraska residents. The fund will provide full-tuition scholarships for 15 in-state students and half-tuition scholarships for about 65 students each year, with most of those scholarships designated for Nebraska residents. Full-year, in-state tuition is approximately $12,600 for the 2023-24 academic year.
During the 2022-23 academic year, Nebraska residents made up 55% of the College of Law’s enrollment.
The gift commitment will help to ensure a Nebraska Law degree remains accessible to all students, regardless of family income or socioeconomic background. The College of Law consistently ranks in the top 10% nationally for lowest law school debt.
The Acklie pledge also supports the Nebraska Public Interest Law Fund, which provides stipends for second- and third-year law students who work for a government or public interest organization in law school, as well as travel awards for students to attend a national leadership conference.
Approximately 430 students are enrolled in the College of Law.
College of Law clinics
The Acklie pledge will create the Children’s Justice Clinic Endowed Excellence Fund to support the clinic.
In the clinic, third-year law students serve as guardians ad litem in Lancaster County Juvenile Court, under the supervision of Professor Michelle Paxton, and advocate for the best interests of children in the legal system. Most cases involve family situations that include domestic violence, neglect, unsafe housing and substance abuse.
“Children are our most vulnerable population, and they need a fighter in their corner,” Paxton said.
Since the Children’s Justice Clinic launched in 2017, 49 Nebraska Law students have been trained as guardians ad litem. From August 2017 through December 2022, the clinic’s students have represented 204 children and served as advocates in 139 juvenile court cases, with 125 of those cases involving abuse and neglect.
“Right now, there is a shortage of high-quality attorneys to represent children in juvenile court because the traditional law school experience does not provide the training and support you need to be effective,” Paxton said. “The support the Acklie family is providing will allow us to increase the availability and quality of attorneys interested in representing children across the state.”
The Acklie gift commitment also will create the College of Law Clinics Endowed Support Fund to provide financial support for the college’s six other clinics, as well as any future clinics. In addition to the Children’s Justice Clinic, the College of Law offers the Housing Justice Clinic, Criminal Clinic, Civil Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Weibling Entrepreneurship Clinic and Estate Planning Clinic.
About Duane and Phyllis Acklie
Duane Acklie was raised on a farm near Norfolk and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Nebraska in 1953 and his Juris Doctor degree from Nebraska Law in 1955. He served as an Army officer in counterintelligence from 1955 to 1957.
He and Phyllis purchased Crete Carrier Corp. in 1971, building it into one of the nation’s largest privately owned trucking companies. Duane Acklie died in 2016.
“To our family, the impact of the education Duane received at Nebraska Law cannot be overstated,” said Kruse, vice president and director of the Acklie Charitable Foundation. “We are thrilled to make these gifts to help students have the same chance to acquire an exceptional foundational legal education and gain practical hands-on experience assisting clients.”
The Acklie family has a history of support for the College of Law. Including the gift commitment announced June 27, the family has made three significant gifts during Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future, which began in 2018.
The campaign is a historic effort to engage at least 150,000 benefactors to give $3 billion to support the University of Nebraska. The campaign’s top priorities are support for students and ensuring a high-quality, affordable and accessible education for them.
The Acklie family also supported the philanthropic effort to renovate the Marvin and Virginia Schmid Law Library, which reopened in 2022; the Acklie Family Student Commons on the library’s lower level is named in their honor.
In 2021, Phyllis Acklie honored her husband by establishing the Duane W. Acklie Honor Scholarship Fund. This permanently endowed fund provides multiple, annual scholarships to aid Nebraska high school graduates from rural areas who are pursuing a law degree at the University of Nebraska.
Before the current campaign, the Acklie family provided the lead financial gift for the College of Law’s Duane W. Acklie Classroom Wing in 2009.
“I am deeply grateful to the Acklie family for their generous support of the College of Law and many other areas of the University of Nebraska. Members of the Acklie family also have given generously of their time and talents as volunteers for both the university and foundation,” said Brian F. Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “I have no doubt the Only in Nebraska campaign will succeed because of kind and committed support from alumni and donors like the Acklies.”