College of Law receives $1M gift to establish endowed professorship in natural resources law

Sept. 18, 2023

The professorship, endowed by Desmond and Jean Ruley Kearns, will provide financial support and recognition to a faculty member who demonstrates expertise in, passion for and commitment to advancing natural resources law.

A photograph of the James E. Rogers College of Law

University of Arizona News

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law has received a $1 million gift from an alumni couple to establish the Desmond and Jean Ruley Kearns Professor of Law, an endowed professorship in natural resources law.

Desmond "Des" Kearns, who holds graduate degrees in both law and engineering from UArizona and is a registered professional engineer and member of the State Bar of Arizona, has practiced both professions in the course of his natural resources career. Jean Ruley Kearns, who holds a doctorate, has spent her career in university teaching and international development in more than 30 developing countries.

A photograph of Jean Ruley and Desmond Kearns

Jean Ruley and Desmond Kearns

"We wanted to support the College of Law in a way that is meaningful to us and that elevated the quality and status of the law college in the future," Des Kearns said. "Endowing the professorship will make a major impact and achieve those goals. We want to ensure that the law college educates lawyers who will optimize the beneficial use of our water resources, develop our natural resources and minerals in a responsible manner, and manage our climate and environment for the good of mankind. All of these are very important areas of concern for the College of Law, the University of Arizona, our state, our nation and the world. This professorship should help to ensure that the College of Law will have state-of-the-art natural resources professors."

The endowed professorship will provide financial support and recognition to a faculty member who demonstrates expertise in, passion for and commitment to advancing natural resources law. Des and Jean Kearns anticipate that the holder of the professorship will develop new natural resources courses as this field of law evolves in the future, including in the areas of minerals, energy, water, public lands, climate, environment and land use.

"We are profoundly grateful for the transformative generosity of Des and Jean. Their enduring commitment to the University of Arizona community and their dedication to the advancement of natural resources law will resonate for generations to come," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "This remarkable gift not only establishes a prestigious professorship but also serves as a testament to their invaluable contributions as educators. Des and Jean have left an indelible mark on our institution, shaping minds and fostering a legacy that exemplifies the true spirit of academic excellence."

Commitment to conservation and natural resources

Des Kearns, Class of 1972, taught the natural resources law courses at the College of Law for several years. He earned his bachelor's degree in mining engineering from Imperial College London, and worked in both coal and metal mining in the United States, Canada, Cyprus, England and Ireland, as well as in consulting capacities in Australia, Africa and Latin America.

Des Kearns spent several years in private law practice in Tucson, concentrating in natural resources, transactional and corporate law. He also served as general counsel and in executive management positions for several mining companies. He has been a member of and trustee for the Foundation for Natural Resources and Energy Law (previously the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation) for approximately 50 years. He also served as an adviser during the creation of the Global Mining Law Center at the College of Law and was a member of the college's Board of Visitors for many years.

Jean Kearns, Class of 1959, Professor Emerita in the College of Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences, earned a bachelor's degree from McNeese State University in Louisiana, a master's degree in family and consumer sciences from UArizona and a doctorate from Florida State University.

She started her career at McNeese State University but dedicated most of her teaching career to research and teaching at UArizona. She was a Fulbright Professor and has taught internationally at the University of British Columbia, Philippine Women's University and Singapore Teachers' Training College.

After retiring from UArizona, she joined the Consortium for International Development, first as deputy director and then as executive director. CID was a consortium of 11 land-grant universities in the western United States that designed and implemented projects in the fields of agriculture, water resources, health and education in developing countries. She also was appointed by then-President Ronald Reagan to serve on the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, a seven-person board that advises the United States Agency for International Development. Among her many awards, she was honored for her humanitarian efforts with the Leo B. Hart Humanitarian Award by the UArizona Alumni Association.

Des Kearns and Jean Kearns describe themselves as a "native-born Irishman" and a "Cajun from Southwestern Louisiana," respectively. They have been married for over 50 years and live in Tucson.

"We are deeply honored to witness the profound impact of Des and Jean's generosity. Their visionary gift to establish a professorship in natural resources law is a testament to their unwavering dedication to shaping the future of legal education and environmental stewardship," said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. "Des and Jean's legacy will continue to inspire us all, reminding us that philanthropy has the power to shape not only institutions but also the very fabric of knowledge and progress."

College of Law Dean Marc L. Miller added, "What truly sets Des apart and underscores his importance to the college is his engagement with the community – over a lifetime and over the past decade. His contributions as a trusted adviser, mentor and advocate have woven an invaluable thread into the fabric of our institution's growth and success. This gift, while monumental, is just one chapter in Des's story with us. We are incredibly thankful to both him and Jean for their generous investment, which will have a lasting impact for our students and the broader community.”