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UND law school looks internally after failed dean search

A cyclist pedals past the UND Law School in a light snow squall Wednesday afternoon in Grand Forks. Final exams began Wednesday at the Law School and continue through next week. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Although an external search for a new UND School of Law dean was not successful, faculty, staff and students say an internal candidate could end up being a better option in the long run.

Brad Myers has been serving as interim dean since August. He took over from Kathryn Rand, who had served as dean since 2009 and chose to step down from the position to return to the law school faculty.

A search committee, made up of professors, alumni and others, was working to fill the position since July. The committee was recently disbanded following the unsuccessful external search.

In November, four finalists for the dean's position visited campus.

Ultimately, Elizabeth Ann Warner who had served as acting dean of the University of Kansas Law School in 2016 and Brian Gallini, who serves as professor and senior associate dean for faculty at the University of Arkansas School of Law, were each offered the dean's position and each turned it down. Warner declined to comment on the reason she turned down the job. Gallini did not return a request for comment.

In 2018, Rand's salary was $295,017.

Last week, UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo held a forum for students, staff and faculty to update them on the search and ask for their nominations for an internal candidate, a move that surprised some students.

Wednesday, DiLorenzo said having more people participating in the nominations helps with the hiring process to find the right person for the dean's position. The provost said his office has already received a lot of nominations.

DiLorenzo is also pushing "self-nominations" for the role.

"We should all be asking ourselves 'How can I help? What can I do?,'" he said, noting that even if faculty and staff aren't interested in being dean there are other ways for them to help the law school thrive.

People inside and outside the law school expressed mixed feelings about the external search concluding.

Logan Caldwell, a first-year law student, said there are pros and cons to having an external search.

"If you do a national search the idea is you bring in somebody with a different kind of viewpoint and somebody that has done things a different way in a different part of the country," Caldwell said.

There are benefits to an internal search, especially in a smaller state like North Dakota, which only has one law school that produces most of the state's lawyers, Caldwell said.

"Just because they are from the school doesn't mean that they don't know other ways to do things," he said.

Caldwell said he was glad to see DiLorenzo come to the law school and give it the "attention it deserves." He said it was "quite unusual" but "fantastic" that DiLorenzo wants students to be a part of the nominating process for the search.

"When somebody comes in and is hiring the manager at Walmart they don't normally survey the people behind the deli counter on what they want, they just hire the manager based on what they know," he said.

A student, Kelsey Stock, was also a part of the original dean's search.

Zack Pelham, president of the State Bar Association of ND Board of Governors, sent a letter on Feb. 5 to DiLorenzo about the external search concluding. Pelham was a part of the search committee for the new dean.

In the letter, Pelham said the Board of Governors voted unanimously to "urge" DiLorenzo "to consider nominations of both external and internal candidates" for the dean's position at the law school. The letter stated the State Bar is neither opposed to an internal candidate nor is it in favor of an external candidate.

External candidates could "bring the law school new ideas, leadership skills, creativity and the ability to forge public-private partnerships during this critical time," the letter said.

The letter notes that while an internal candidate "may prove to be the best path forward for the law school," the school should not exclude other external candidates.

"But excluding external candidates from this process, especially those individuals who previously applied for the position, short-changes the law school and the citizens of North Dakota, who rely on the product of the law schools: future attorneys," the letter said.

Bar pass rates

While the school is in in the process of searching for a new dean, it is also addressing recent reporting by USA Today surrounding bar passage rates.

UND was among the lower scoring schools across the country for bar passage rates within two years, according to data from the American Bar Association.

UND's bar pass rate is around 73 percent over two years, according to ABA data. While that number may be on the lower end for law schools around the country, interim dean Brad Myers said there are many factors that play into it.

Myers said the university has group of Canadian students who attend the school. In 2015, 13 Canadian students graduated from the school. Most of the students ultimately went back to Canada and practiced law in the country. However, because Canadians do not take a bar exam those numbers don't get counted, Myers said.

Some Native American reservations also do not require people to take a bar exam, Myers added, so those numbers of graduates who go to work on reservations also do not get factored in.

Additionally, because the school has among the fewest number of test takers, even one or two people failing the bar can have an impact on the final percentage numbers, Myers said.

In 2015 and 2016, a total of 56 students took the bar exam with 41 passing the exam within the two-year time period.

The numbers are similar to the University of South Dakota, which had 55 bar takers over the two-year period and had a 72 percent pass rate.

The average GPA for students at the law school was around 3.36, which is slightly above average for schools across the country.

The school has already implemented ways to address bar exam passage rates in response to lower pass scores, including a bar pass class that began in 2015 for students who may need extra help to prepare for the bar exam. The class is taught by law professor Kirsten Dauphinais.

Dauphinais also helps students who have failed the bar exam to help them work on areas they may have struggled on.

Pelham said "there is a lot of weight" on the bar exam as it is a test that will decide whether a person will become licensed to practice law in a specific state.

"Bar passage has to be an element of teaching the next generation of attorneys so I think it's very important and very good that our law school in North Dakota is addressing this bar passage and taking it very seriously," he said.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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