Madelyn Kumar, Senior Photographer
Yale Law School announced two gifts to the school last week honoring the life and legacy of Michael Varet LAW ’65 that will support “critical needs” of students at the law school: emergency expenses and funding for work in environmental law.
The gifts come from the Middle Road Foundation, the Varet family’s private foundation that focuses on education and healthcare, among other issues. The gifts established two funds: The Michael A. Varet ’65 YLS Safety Net Support Fund and The Michael A. Varet ’65 Summer Public Interest Fellowship Fund. The YLS Safety Net provides emergency funding that law school students may use for unexpected expenses. The Public Interest Fellowship Fund seeks to help train future lawyers so they can address environmental challenges. The fund will enable four first-year Law School students to spend their summers working for environmentally focused public interest organizations that otherwise would not have had enough funding to hire them.
“We could not think of a better way to honor my father — who was completely devoted to Yale Law School — than to make a gift that will both meet the exigent needs of its students, about whom he cared deeply, and support critical public interest work undertaken to address the climate crisis,” Varet’s daughter, Sarah Varet LAW ’04, said in the announcement of the gifts.
Students may use the funding from the Public Interest Fellowship Fund to support their work with relevant environmental law and advocacy organizations, such as Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund.
While Varet –– who passed away in May 2019 –– graduated from the Law School more than 50 years ago, he remained very involved with the Law School throughout his life.
Varet was a member of the Yale Law School Fund Board, which helps facilitate and promote the majority of gifts that are given to the Law School. He also served on the Yale Law School Association’s Executive Committee, which meets twice a year to discuss various programs at the Law School and helps connect Law School alumni and students around the world.
“We are profoundly grateful to the Varet family for their gifts to the Law School,” Law School Dean Heather Gerken said in the announcement. “Although Michael never sought or expected acknowledgement of all that he gave to Yale, we owe him a debt and are honored that his family has chosen to celebrate his legacy in this way.”
Varet was also involved with the diversification of the Sterling Law Building’s portrait collection, working to help the collection better reflect the history of the Law School. He funded many new portraits, including those of LGBTQ activist Charles Reich LAW ’52, former Law School Dean James Thomas LAW ’64, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 and civil rights activist Pauli Murray LAW ’65.
Varet’s gift for the YLS Safety Net endows the preexisting emergency funding program that was first established in 2019.
“The Michael A. Varet ’65 YLS Safety Net Support Fund enables Yale Law School to provide critical assistance to high need students facing unanticipated financial hardships,” Associate Dean of Law School Admissions and Financial Aid Miriam Ingber LAW ’04 wrote to the News. “This fund will continue to positively impact generations of YLS students, and we’re very grateful to the Varet family for their incredible generosity.”
According to Gerken, the Law School’s Safety Net has been able to support students by covering a “myriad” of unexpected student expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including emergency flights home, temporary housing and costs associated with technology needed to study remotely.
Over 25 percent of the Law School class of 2023 are the first in their family to attend any professional school. According to the announcement in “YLS Today,” Varet’s gift helps provide many of these students with needed financial liquidity or family support to pay for unexpected expenses.
“Michael cared deeply about the many first [generation students] we’ve welcomed into the school and understood how important it is to provide a ‘safety net’ for those students who do not already have one,” Gerken said. “Now that the Safety Net has been endowed by the Varet family, we have the necessary resources to meet the needs of students for generations to come.”
Over 70 percent of Law School students received some form of financial aid in the 2020-21 academic year, according to the school’s financial aid website.
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