University taps Wake Forest dean to lead law school

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of GW Media Relations

Blake D. Morant was named dean of the GW Law School last spring.

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of GW Media Relations
Blake D. Morant faces a difficult decision: swell the size of the law school’s incoming classes, at the expense of selectivity, or keep first-year classes at about 500 students.

The next dean of the GW Law School will arrive on campus in September, after seven years leading Wake Forest University’s law school, officials announced Monday.

Blake D. Morant will take over GW’s No. 20-ranked school on Sept. 1, bringing expertise in media and administrative law to the school that has spent 18 months without a permanent leader.

A double alumnus from the University of Virginia, Morant is the first black dean to lead the law school, search committee chair Roger Schechter said. He is also the second permanent black dean in GW history after Ben Vinson, who just completed his first year leading the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

Morant is the president-elect of the Association of American Law Schools, and will serve as president in 2015. He has also acted as the vice chair of the American Bar Association’s diversity council.

Schechter said Morant stood out from other candidates during several interviews over the course of the year-long search because of his experience as a dean and incoming leader of the most-prominent organization for law schools.

“It’s an extremely visible position, and it means that he will be out there very visible to all kinds of different audiences,” he said.

Schechter pointed to Morant’s tenure at Wake Forest, where he raised the school’s profile and saw its overall ranking by U.S. News & World Report rise to No. 31 this year from No. 40 in 2009. The school now competes with neighboring University of North Carolina Law School.

Morant also launched a year-long program at Wake Forest for professionals seeking law degrees but who do not necessarily want to become lawyers. The program provided an alternative source of revenue for the school, which GW’s deans have also tried to accomplish during a University-wide enrollment slump.

Amid declining applications to law schools nationwide, Morant will face a tough decision: swell the size of incoming classes to bring in more tuition dollars or keep first-year classes at about 500 students and maintain selectivity.

GW Law School’s admissions rate increased by nearly 13 percentage points this year, as the school accepted 80 more students than it had the previous year. The average LSAT score of this year’s first-year class decreased by two points, though the average GPA increased.

“I look forward to working with the constituency of this historic institution during this time of both challenge and extraordinary opportunity,” Morant said in a release. He was not immediately available to comment.

Wake Forest’s law school specializes in health care law and runs several pro-bono law clinics that focus on elder law and child advocacy. GW has made a name for itself among highly-competitive law schools for its strong intellectual property and environmental law programs.

Morant’s current school is significantly smaller, typically bringing in a first-year class of 179 students, while GW’s class included 484 students this year.

Before he became the dean of Wake Forest in 2007, Morant was a professor at several schools including Washington and Lee and American universities. At the start of his career, he spent two summers working in the office of the general counsel at NASA.

In interviews with the 16-person search committee and every member of law school faculty, Morant sought input from professors, Schechter said. That distinguished him from some competitors, who laid out audacious plans when faculty leaders were looking for a steadying force.

Morant beat out nine other candidates, some who were sitting deans, Schechter said. Professors in the school kept the names of the candidates under wraps after the previous dean’s highly-public departure.

“We had a mix of people who had not yet been deans, but Blake was a dean, and that was definitely a plus in his favor. There was a notion that he had a little bit less of the learning curve,” he said.

Ten candidates visited campus in April for the last round of interviews before the school’s search committee narrowed down the list. The law school holds a full faculty vote to hone in on its top candidates, unlike most schools at GW that allow a search committee to decide.

“He brings to this important position a proven record of accomplishments, and his extensive leadership experience will make him an extremely valuable addition to our law school and the entire University,” University President Steven Knapp said in a release.

Morant will be the first dean since a group of strong-willed faculty tried to push out then-dean Paul Schiff Berman in fall 2012. Some professors called to hold a school-wide vote of no confidence that would oust him from his post.

Berman was shuffled to the provost’s office, where he works to build GW’s online education programs from the ground up. Berman only served as dean for 18 months before leaving the law school. Gregory Maggs has led the school since then, serving his second stint as interim dean.

Morant is the second sitting dean GW has brought in to take control of one of its schools in the last month. Linda Livingstone, who will lead the GW School of Business starting in August, spent the last 12 years as dean of the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.

She is also the incoming chair of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, GW’s accrediting organization.

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