Doug Cohen: Hopes for the next law school dean

Frederick M. Lawrence, the dean of the law school, has left to become President of Brandeis University. This is a great loss for our University, as Lawrence’s tenure firmly established GW’s Law School as one of the top programs in the country.

Over the last five years, GW Law School has had some of the strongest fundraising efforts in its history, despite the turbulent economy. The school also saw its five strongest recruitment classes, with the 2010-2011 class having the highest mean GPA of any class so far. Lawrence also helped solidify the program’s position in the top 20 national law schools. It is also ranked second in the country for its part-time program, third in intellectual property law and sixth in international law.

While the search for a new dean may seem unimportant to many undergraduate students, the process has implications for everyone at the University. A strong law school, along with other graduate programs, can significantly enhance the academic experience of all students on campus. The importance of this new search is twofold: First, this transition can be a period in which the University makes the law school’s facilities more open to the entire University. Second, finding a dean who is as strong as Lawrence is critical to maintaining and growing a highly academic and intellectual atmosphere on campus.

Bearing in mind that the law school has influence over undergraduate success, a criterion for the next law school dean should be an ability to engage the entire GW community. For example, the Burns Law Library has over 600,000 volumes, 20,000 rare books, numerous special collections and technology for research, all of which can greatly benefit the entire GW community. Undergraduates are not allowed to study in the law library, as it is reserved for only those in the law school. While this may have been justified in the past because the old building clearly did not even adequately serve the law program, the construction of the new law school building along G Street will dramatically improve the University’s resources. Obviously the primary purpose of the library is to serve law students, but just because someone is not a law student does not mean he or she should be deprived of using the new, state-of-the-art, 20,000 square-foot facility. Students studying national or international law or legal history should have access to the resources the law school possesses. Opening up the law school will clearly be valuable to all of campus, as students will benefit from a new wealth of information.

A renowned law program attracts world-class faculty, which can benefit the undergraduate population. Many graduate professors also work with students in undergraduate programs, allowing the entire University to gain from their specialized expertise. Esteemed professors bring more visibility and attention to GW, which in turn attracts even more students and faculty.

While it will surely be difficult to find a dean that will be able to replicate the success that Lawrence had throughout his time at GW, the new search provides an excellent opportunity for the University to continue on a path of raising academic excellence and promoting intellectual growth. The choice of a new dean is not a minor decision that will only affect those in the law school; rather, it is a decision that has implications for every student on campus.

Dough Cohen is a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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