Committee narrows down search for law school dean

A search committee narrowed the list down to five prospective candidates.
Cassie Kibens / Graphic Designer

MU’s School of Law is on the hunt for a new dean, and a unique search committee has been narrowing down a large pool for a suitable replacement.

Provost Brian Foster has brought different departments on campus together to form a "search committee” specifically for the purpose of filling the dean position. After the dean position has been filled, the committee will be disbanded.

Law professor Thom Lambert is co-chair of the committee.

“The committee is made up of 15 people — law professors, other faculty members, a Missouri Supreme Court judge, a local lawyer who is an alumnus of the law school and some students,” Lambert said. “I think that (the committee) offers a good range of people.”

The process for finding a new dean is a long one with many stages.

“We begin by putting out advertisements in scholarly publications and websites that law professors are connected to and might see,” Lambert said. “We initially interviewed 10 people via video conferencing.”

The committee narrowed the pool down to five finalists after the video interviews, College of Business Dean Joan Gabel said. The finalists are on campus for several days to meet with as many stakeholders as possible.

Lambert said Foster is instrumental in the decision.

“Provost Foster solicits feedback from everyone who meets with the candidate during the time they are on campus,” Lambert said. “The committee meets with the Provost, and he makes the final decision.”

The law school’s current dean, R. Lawrence Dessem, is leaving his position as dean to focus on full-time teaching at MU.

“I’m finishing up 10 years here,” Dessem said. “Before that, I was dean for seven years at the Mercer Law School, and directly before that I was associate dean at the University of Tennessee. Basically, it has been 20 years since I have been a full-time teacher.”

Dessem will talk to the potential deans when each comes to campus, but he is not on the committee that makes decisions about the candidates. After 20 years, he said he is itching to get back into full-time teaching.

“I’d like to get more time in the classroom with students and less time with administrative duties,” Dessem said. “I’ll miss the ceremonial things, like commencement. I’ve loved getting to work with the alumni. But I like people, and I want to be involved more directly. There are definitely some things I won’t miss. Meetings, budgeting, personnel items — those just aren’t as interesting to me.”

The committee hopes to choose a dean by early March.

“Our goal is to identify the very best candidate and, of course, to show that candidate what a wonderful opportunity the University of Missouri School of Law offers,” Gabel said.

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