Law school picks two-time interim dean

Long-serving professor Gregory Maggs will take over the law school after an abrupt leadership switch more than two weeks ago installed him as interim dean for the second time.

Maggs will replace Paul Schiff Berman, who announced Nov. 12 that he would become the University’s vice provost for online education and academic innovation after just 18 months in the law school’s top position.

The move, effective Jan. 16, steadies the school’s leadership as it tries to boost fundraising and make up for lagging enrollment.

Administrators said Maggs was the clear pick because of his six months as interim dean in 2010 – after Dean Frederick Lawrence left GW to become president of Brandeis University – and that the school’s faculty, students and key donors were already familiar with him. Appointing another interim dean would have given the No. 20 law school its fourth leader in two years.

Maggs said he would not be a candidate for the permanent dean position, which GW will begin searching for this fall, and said earlier this month, “No one was more thankful when Berman took the job, because it’s a lot of work.”

He said as interim leader this time around, he would help administrators deal with the challenges of declining applications and tough job placement.

“All law schools face challenges in these difficult economic times with finding great jobs for their graduates,” Maggs said in an email. “Fortunately, we have a great group of people working on this problem at GW. I hope to help them in any way I can.”

Faculty mostly applauded the move, praising Maggs for his solid reputation among professors, students and alumni. But the pick was not without controversy.

One professor, W. Burlette Carter, alleged in an email sent to law school faculty, University President Steven Knapp and Provost Steven Lerman that leaders overlooked the school’s senior associate dean for academic affairs, Christopher Bracey, because he is black.

“While I very much appreciate Gregory Maggs’ agreement to step into the deanship at this very difficult time, I must express my own view that any faculty opposition to Sr. Associate Dean Bracey moving into the interim deanship was racially based,” Carter wrote.

Carter, who is black, told The Hatchet that she’s heard of a “renegade group” of faculty trying to hold back Bracey, the school’s second-in-command who was also a candidate for the interim role, for racially charged reasons.

The school has had three interim deans in the last 15 years, all of whom previously held the senior associate dean post.

“The concern – and I’m not the only person who shares it – is that because he’s African American, he needs to jump through hoops,” she said.

But law professors, who have some input into the interim dean selection, quickly shot down the charge in subsequent emails on Carter’s message chain. Faculty and administrators said that Maggs was chosen because of his experience as dean, and that the pick best stabilizes the law school’s leadership.

Bracey told The Hatchet that he looked forward to working with Maggs. He acknowledged that “the optics of the situation are not ideal,” especially because he is the first black senior associate dean, and faculty do not usually influence interim dean decisions. But he said he could not say conclusively whether faculty may have mobilized against him because of his race.

“The deviation from the norm raises a red flag for some people,” he said. “But my experience – as someone who researches and writes about constitutional law, civil rights and the history of American race relations – is that one rarely receives honest answers when race is involved.”

Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor who’s taught at the school for over 20 years, said faculty have welcomed Maggs back to a leadership role with intense fundraising demands. Berman has prioritized fundraising to inflate its financial aid pool and grow new programs, raising $2.5 million so far this year.

“[Maggs is] one of the most popular teachers we have in the law school. The alums love him,” Saltzburg said. “He’s an ideal person to have. When we send him out to talk to alums and raise money, we’re sending out someone they love and respect.”

Michael Abramowicz, a law professor, said Maggs would have to face the challenge of keeping the school afloat during tough economic times, but added that he has earned faculty trust.

“He has an amazing ability to make difficult administrative decisions that make everyone feel heard and advances the interests of the law school,” Abramowicz said.

Maggs has been a law school professor since 1993, also serving as senior associate dean for academic affairs. He’s now co-director of the National Security and U.S. Foreign Relations Law Program.

Lerman announced the move in an email to law school faculty Friday morning. He told The Hatchet that Maggs’ experience in the dean’s office gave him an edge.

“He is an extraordinary scholar, teacher and administrator who is well-respected by his colleagues and by the School’s alumni,” Lerman said in an email, adding that he was grateful Bracey would remain in the school’s administration.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.