Interim dean tries to steady law school after rough waters

This is the first in a series of profiles on GW’s 10 deans.

When Gregory Maggs took over the GW Law School last January, he faced a band of faculty riled by a plan to oust the former dean.

Then there were the problems hurting law schools nationwide, such as shrinking numbers of applicants and poor job prospects for graduates.

But after nearly a year as interim leader, Maggs has overseen a 22 percent increase in first-year enrollment and boosted attendance at alumni events – successes that have won him praise across departments.

Maggs, who declined a sit-down interview with The Hatchet this fall, has said in past interviews that he is not interested in the full post, which will be filled by the end of the academic year. This week, he declined to say whether he will be a candidate in the school’s search to name a permanent dean, which it hopes to complete in a year.

A professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Maggs is not eligible to be a candidate in the search for a permanent leader because he is interim dean.

Over the last three years, Maggs has served as interim leader for a total of 17 months, nearly the same amount of time the previous dean, Paul Schiff Berman, was in the office. He’s also had to serve with faculty-dean relationships at a boiling point across the University, with four deans stepping down after tension with professors.

But Maggs has eased tensions as one of the most well-liked professors, earning student and faculty approval by bringing them into decision-making situations with his approachable personality. Maggs has won the school’s award for distinguished faculty service six times and an award for service to the University in 2012.

Teaching courses like constitutional, contract and counter-terrorism law, Maggs has reached thousands of students since he joined the faculty in 1993. He has also been a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps for more than 20 years and is a third generation law professor.

In an email statement, Maggs downplayed his personal role in steadying the No. 21 school’s trajectory, and said he has worked closely with faculty and others in the dean’s office over the past year.

“Nothing happens at the law school without the help of many hands and minds. As the interim dean, I cannot take personal credit for the law school’s successes during the past year, but I am the first to acknowledge and delight in the recent accomplishments of the law school’s faculty, students and staff,” he wrote.

He pointed to the school’s diverse class this year, with a record 53 percent female students and 37 percent minority students, as well as a greater number of students securing jobs after graduation.

Still, the latter is an expensive bragging right: The school pays nearly $3 million to keep up a program that pays employers to put graduates in temporary legal positions. Maggs has continued support for the Pathways to Practice program, which paid for 109 law graduates’ employment.

Mohammad Shouman, a third-year law student, said Maggs was a “brilliant” professor who was receptive to even students’ small concerns, like when he made sure the temperature in the school’s library was adjusted after students had complained several times.

Roger Trangsrud, former interim dean of the law school, lauded Maggs’ ability to recruit a full class without lowering class quality. As law schools across the country reported declining enrollment, GW’s increased – with its average GPA ticking up to 3.71, while the average LSAT score fell just two points to 165.

Still, he said an interim dean is not in the position to make major changes to the school, and focuses instead on continuing the goals of the former dean and leaving the school better for the next permanent dean.

“Some people, when they are interim dean, fall in love with the job and they become a dean either at their own school or some other school in the future,” he said. “Others go, ‘This was great. I learned a lot, I made a lot of friends, I helped the school out, but I’d like to go back to being a full-time professor.’ And I think Dean Maggs is in that second group.”

Peter Meyers, a professor of clinical law, called the interim deanship challenging because that leader is not in a position to make radical change.

“His agenda was ‘preserve’ – keep the law school in the great position that it’s in,” Meyers said.

That strategy contrasts Berman’s big plans for the law school when he arrived from Arizona State in 2011. Faculty tried to rally a vote of no confidence against Berman after he made a series of moves that professors thought went over their heads, like starting a health law research center and raising cutoffs for applicants’ LSAT scores.

But even as support for the interim leader surged, the school saw a $4.3 million drop in fundraising overall this year, likely related to the school’s uncertain future under an interim leader.

To make due with less money, the law school’s lead fundraiser said Maggs is directing donations toward more “core programs” like paying for better adjunct faculty.

“An interim who has been at the school, like Greg Maggs, would say, ‘Why don’t we think about fundraising for these institutional strengths that may not be sexy?’” said Rich Collins, associate vice president for law development.

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