Pennsylvania State University has tapped Hari Osofsky, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, as the new dean of its University Park law campus and School of International Affairs. (The university maintains a separate law campus in Carlisle with different leadership.)
Osofsky, 44, is an expert on climate change regulation and energy policy. She is slated to assume the Penn State deanship on July 1 pending approval from the university’s board of trustees and will be the 16-year-old law school’s first female dean.
She will replace interim dean James Houck, a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, who has served in that capacity since 2013.
Osofsky has taught at Minnesota since 2010, and during her time on the faculty earned a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Oregon. Osofsky said in an interview Friday that she defended her dissertation the week after a ceremony to celebrate her promotion to full law professor in 2013. “A number of people through it was a little bit crazy at the time,” she said of pulling double duty as professor and graduate student.
She currently serves as the faculty director of Minnesota’s energy transition lab—an initiative that aims to bring together leaders in energy policy and regulation. She is also the director of the law school’s joint degree program in law, science, and technology.
Osofsky said her geography studies have been invaluable to her work on climate change and energy matters.
“She brings with her an impressive list of accomplishments and quality scholarship, along with an enthusiasm and vision that will allow her to build upon the exceptional work of our faculty and staff,” Penn State provost Nick Jones said of Osofsky in an announcement of her appointment Friday. “I am delighted to appoint someone of this caliber to lead and engage with our law students and the entire university community.”
Today’s lawyers need a foundation in technology, globalization and the other major forces shaping the world and the modern legal profession, Osofsky said. Penn State is in a good position to innovate and address those big-picture changes, she added.
“I really do think this is an unusual leadership opportunity,” Osofsky said. “Penn State is one of the leading public research institutions in the country. It does incredibly important and impressive interdisciplinary research. I think there’s a real opportunity for the law school to benefit from that.”
Osofsky will also head the School of International Affairs, which enrolls more than 100 students from 14 countries for a two-year masters of international affairs and a variety of certificates.
Jones credited Houck with guiding the law school through the formal split of the university’s two law campuses in 2013. The two campuses shared a single administration and American Bar Association-accreditation status prior to that.
“His leadership has brought us to this exciting point in time where a new dean can build on his accomplishments and continue to meet the major challenges, changes and opportunities in legal education in the years ahead,” Jones said.
Osofsky will take the reins of the larger of the university’s two law campuses. First-year enrollment at University Park has increased 36 percent since 2013 to 153, according to data submitted to the ABA. Enrollment has also increased at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law campus, but just 58 new student enrolled this fall.
“This is obviously a challenging time nationally for legal education,” Osofsky said. “While I think this school is tremendously well-positioned to be an innovator in ways that are needed right now, that’s a challenging thing to do. Carving power, as they say in skiing, is challenging work. The very thing that excites me about this deanship—this opportunity to try to create a national model for where legal education can and should go—is a very challenging project.”