The dean of UND’s law school will step down from his position and return to the faculty.

Michael McGinniss, dean of the UND School of Law since 2019, has announced his decision to conclude his deanship after the next academic year and return to his role as a full-time faculty member, UND announced Monday, May 24.

McGinniss will continue leading the school throughout the upcoming academic year until June 30, 2022. That date will mark the completion of his three-year contract.

“My upcoming work as dean in 2021-22 will focus on reinforcing and building upon the significant and important advancements we have made since I began this journey,” McGinniss said in a letter to students, staff, faculty and other friends of the UND Law School.

McGinniss said the decision was “bolstered by the high degree of trust” he has in UND’s academic leadership to “proceed wisely and to act with sound and prudent judgment in selecting the new dean.”

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As college enrollments were expected to decline nationwide during the pandemic, the law school saw a 5% increase in enrollment with a “diverse group of new students for the 2020 fall semester,” UND President Andrew Armacost said.

“Mike’s also been a strong and effective advocate for the law school during his tenure, recognizing the need for attorneys to live and work in rural areas to better serve all of North Dakota,” he said.

McGinniss became dean of the law school during a somewhat murky time for the law school. He was selected to the position after an external search failed. McGinniss was nominated to the role by students and staff within the law school.

When he took over the role, the school, amid tumultuous funding for higher education in general, had taken a hit in funding in previous legislative sessions that led to loss of faculty and the closure of UND’s student law clinic.

During the 2019 legislative session, McGinniss, who had just taken over the position, worked with Interim Dean Brad Myers to gain “strong and vocal support from our alumni and friends in the North Dakota bar in support of a significant increase in the base appropriation for school,” McGinniss wrote in his email. That work resulted in a nearly $2.8 million increase in funding during the 2019-21 biennium.

The law school has also been able to increase enrollment since McGinniss took over. In 2019, the school had a class of 85 first-year law students in the fall. In 2017, the school had 71 first-year students and in 2018 that number dropped to 62.

He said the class of 2021 appears to be on its way to exceeding those figures.

Bar passage rates, which had been slumping in previous years, have also increased.

In July 2018, the first-time North Dakota bar exam pass rate was 75%. In July 2019, the pass rate had climbed to 84%. The first-time pass rate went up last year, too, with an 87% first-time pass rate in July 2020.

Interim Provost Debbie Storrs, who will be leaving UND in July for a job in North Carolina, applauded McGinniss’ work and said the law school is “in a great position to recruit the next dean in a national external search.”

Incoming Provost Eric Link will work with the law school to put together a search committee.