The University of Baltimore School of Law's next dean comes not from legal academia, but from the U.S. Department of Justice.
University officials announced on Wednesday that Ronald Weich, an assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, will become dean in July. He will fill a position left vacant when Phillip Closius was forced out in July 2011 amid a dispute about control of law school-generated fees.
"During this time of considerable transition in legal education and the legal profession, it's important to have leadership with integrity and vision," said Robert Bogomolny, the university's president. "Ron Weich embodies those qualities. I look forward to working with him, and I know our students, faculty, staff and alumni will be energized by his arrival."
As for Weich, "I'm aware of the history and it doesn't concern me," he said. "I'm confident that in partnership with others, we'll make sure the law school has the resources it needs to be effective."
It is relatively unusual for law schools to tap deans with little or no experience in legal academia, although New York Law School and Brooklyn Law School recently named deans from government and law practice, respectively.
"I've been a lawyer for almost 30 years, and I've done so many different things in the law," Weich said in a telephone interview. "I want to bring all that experience together in a different mission. I haven't been in the legal academy, but I have great respect for legal scholarship."
In his current position, to which President Obama appointed him in 2009, Weich promotes the Department of Justice's legislative priorities and coordinates its response to congressional oversight. He also guides the administration's nominees through the Senate confirmation process.
From 2005 to 2009, Weich served as chief counsel to U.S. Senator Harry Reid, during his time as both Senate minority and later majority leader. He worked on the 2007 Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act and the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Weich served as counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy from 1990 to 1997. Before that, he worked in the Baltimore office of Zuckerman Spaeder.
Weich said his wide-ranging experience was a draw for the search committee, and that he looks forward to the challenges his new position will present, including fundraising, faculty recruitment and trying to tamp down on tuition increases.
"Obviously, I want to take the law school to the next level of excellence," he said. "There is already a top-notch faculty and highly motivated students. I want to take those assets and raise the profile of the school, both regionally and nationally."
A new $107 million building, slated to open in 2013, will help boost the school's profile, Weich said.
It's been a relatively rocky year for the law school's top leadership. Bogomolny forced Closius out after he accused university officials of raiding law school-generated funds to subsidize other academic programs. Closius took his concerns public, saying the university took 45 percent of the law school's money, while Bogomolny put that figure at 14 percent. (A subsequent investigation by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded that the university took 31 percent in 2010).
In October, the university announced that it would increase the law school's operating budget by $1 million annually over the next five years. The law school administration will gain additional control over how tuition is set.