University of Montana law school dean finalists discuss national ranking, Title IX and fly fishing

By: - April 13, 2022 6:07 pm

The grizzly bear statue in front of Main Hall on the University of Montana campus. (Provided by the University of Montana.)

Fly fishing, high national rankings, Title IX challenges and housing prices were among the topics three finalists for dean of the University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law discussed in recent campus forums.

The recorded forums, (available here) are part of the search committee’s review of candidates, who talked about challenges and opportunities at the law school. The committee is taking feedback until noon April 14, and will then consider all of the comments in making recommendations to the provost.

Rosa Brooks, on faculty with Georgetown University Law Center, said it’s hard to be innovative without money, but she praised UM: “It’s amazing what the school does with what little it has. I think it’s astonishingly lean.”

Last fall, the dean and an associate dean of the law school stepped down after multiple students said they were discouraged from taking harassment and discrimination allegations to the Title IX Office, and one student wanted to know how to build back trust with female students.

Johanna Bond, faculty with Washington and Lee University School of Law, said she comes to the table having served her institution in a number of Title IX roles, and it’s the job of leadership to mend relationships: “I think that fundamentally, the dean has to build trust with students, staff and faculty.”

Some people wanted to know how the deans would help students afford to go to law school, especially given the price of housing in Montana. The Missoulian reported the median price of a home in the Missoula area jumped 23 percent in the first six months of 2021 compared to 2020.

Norman Bay, partner with Willkie, Farr & Gallagher and member of NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, had taken a look at real estate himself and said he was blown away.

“I saw homes for sale at a price point very similar to homes in Washington, D.C., which has one of the more expensive housing markets in the country,” Bay said.

He said being in a wonderful place to live doesn’t mean much if people can’t afford a roof over their heads.

Rosa Brooks

Brooks might have done one of the “strangest sabbatical” projects for being a law professor: She served as a reserve police officer for the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. In 2021, The Washington Post named one of her books, “Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City,” as one of the best nonfiction books of the year.

In some ways, Brooks said her background as a finalist for dean of the UM law school is traditional, but in other ways, it’s not. She’s worked as a law professor for Georgetown University Law Center since 2007, and has served as the associate dean for centers and institutes there since 2020. She’s also an adjunct scholar for the Modern War Institute of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

On the other hand, she’s a journalist who wrote weekly columns for Foreign Policy magazine and weekly opinion pieces for the Los Angeles Times, and she’s written for the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

Brooks, who graduated from Yale Law School, Oxford University, and Harvard College, said challenges and opportunities are really the same things, and she said the UM law school faces some of the same headwinds other law schools do. She also said it has its own possibilities for growth.

Every law school in the country is grappling with an increasingly globalized legal marketplace, she said. In other words, Brooks said a lawyer practicing in Helena will encounter transnational legal problems.

Law schools also are dealing with changing technologies and developments in cyberlaw. And she said they’re working on diversity, equity and inclusion in order to tap into the full range of talent in recruitment but also in retention.

Montana has its own specific challenges and opportunities, she said. That includes rapid in migration, which is putting pressure on the cost of housing and creating cultural disruption, she said. At the same time, some newcomers with affluence may have a stake in a strong educational system and legal system, and she said they may help with financial support.

She said challenges include ensuring the law school retains its roots in place, which tie to its natural resources and Indian law programs, as it expands its national presence. She said the UM law school is known in the region, but it has the potential to be higher on the national radar.

“People from all over the country want to come here,” Brooks said.

In response to a question, Brooks said she wants to be dean because she likes problem solving and working with others. Multiple times, she resisted her own dean’s request that she step into an associate dean role, but when her dean finally said he needed her to take the position, she found she appreciated the camaraderie.

“I surprised myself by liking it,” Brooks said.

Johanna Bond

The UM law school already has an edge in a couple of key areas, said Bond, an expert in international human rights law. 

An interdisciplinary approach is “baked” into its scholarship, given the position of the Department of Public Administration and Policy within the school, she said. Plus, the deep connection to place manifests in the curriculum, such as offerings in its “premiere Indian law program” and focus on natural resources.

Bond, professor of law at Washington and Lee University School of Law and former associate dean for academic affairs there, said she sees potential to build on the law school’s collaboration with other areas of campus, and she also sees an opportunity to grow its experiential learning through its clinics. She said “adult learners learn best by doing.”

The Georgetown University Law Center graduate also noted the UM law school ranks well nationally in meaningful metrics, such as American Bar Association passage rates, employment rates, and scholarship. She said those measures all are indications the law school is “firing on all cylinders” and “on the rise,” but she also saw the numbers through a particular lens.

“The Blewett School of Law is delivering on all of the things that matter most to students,” Bond said.

Bond has served on several diversity and inclusion committees, and her resume includes organizing a campus visit by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in honor of the late justice’s opinion in U.S. v. Virginia, which forced the Virginia Military Institute to admit women.

A dean needs to be aware of national trends and be a resource to faculty, said Bond, who has a master’s in public policy from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. In particular, she said aspects of a rich, contemporary curriculum are that it’s interdisciplinary, viewed through globalization, advancing in technology, and focused on equality.

“We need to engage students in the powerful potential of law and policy to change the world,” Bond said. “We need to engage students as leaders, as the next generation of leaders.”

One characteristic of UM that resonates with her is its dedication to public service, she said. It’s part of the mission of the institution, and she sees the Department of Public Administration and Policy as an example.

In 2021, the Oxford University Press published her “Global Intersectionality and Contemporary Human Rights” book. Her “Voices of African Women: Women’s Rights in Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania” came out in 2005, according to her resume.

Norman Bay

Bay’s parents immigrated from China, and he grew up in New Mexico. His parents gave him an appreciation for higher education, he said, and his time in New Mexico, including as a former  U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, gave him a love of the West, including fly fishing, although he didn’t claim to be an expert

I seem to have caught a lot more trees than fish in my life as a fly fisher,” Bay said.

Bay, a partner in private practice and previous professor of law at the University of New Mexico School of Law, named diversity as one of the law school’s many strengths. With its recent hires, the UM law school has more women than men on its faculty, 11 compared to nine, said Bay.

He figured the ratio makes the law school in Montana one of the most gender diverse faculties in the country, but certainly in the top 10. However, he said he’s still an outsider, and in order to best understand the school’s strengths and challenges, it would be important to have listening sessions with students, faculty and other groups.

If given the opportunity and if resources were available, Bay said he would invest in the law school’s Indian law clinic and in natural resources and environmental law. Bay, who heads the Energy Regulatory and Compliance Group at his firm and is former chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said energy law is critical given the “‘profound energy transition” taking place in the country and the need to decarbonize systems and the economy.

As for other opportunities, Bay said the law school can claim many achievements, such as fifth in the nation for clerkships and fourth for best value, and he said the information the school provides on Twitter is excellent. But he said the law school could broaden its reach, and he would want to collect data and partner with the marketing experts at the UM College of Business for ideas.

“How do we let other people see all the really great things that are happening at this law school?” Bay said.

The graduate of Harvard Law School and Dartmouth College also said policy cannot exist unless it comports with the law, and he appreciates the fact that the Department of Public Administration and Policy is part of the law school at UM.

“I think DPAP’s incorporation into the law school could provide some very exciting opportunities,” Bay said.

Among his top accomplishments as chair of FERC, Bay points in his resume to “promoting a fair, diverse, inclusive, and engaged workplace dedicated to FERC’s mission. Based on the results of the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, FERC was rated one of the best places to work in government in 2015 (fifth out of 27 mid-sized agencies), fourth in 2016, and first in 2017.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.