Aviva Abramovsky. Incoming dean at SUNY Buffalo. Currently at Syracuse. Aviva Abramovsky. Incoming dean at SUNY Buffalo. Currently at Syracuse.


March has been a good month for women law deans.

Six of the eight new law deans appointed this month are women, with a seventh taking on an interim dean role for the coming academic year. As of now, well over half of the new deans taking the reins starting this summer are women—an unusual development given the long-standing dominance of men in the top job on law campuses.

Yale Law School, ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report, named its first woman law dean earlier this year.

“I think it’s corrective,” said Tracy Thomas, a professor at the University of Akron School of Law who edits the Gender and the Law Prof Blog. “In other words, the current population of law deans is 30 percent women. Our current students are 50 percent women, as are the associate law dean ranks. The leadership needs to be representative of society.”

An increase in the percentage of women associate deans at law school over the past decade has been key to expanding the pool of women candidates with the experience to lead law schools, Thomas added.

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The number of women heading up law schools has risen slowly since the late 1990s, when there were a mere 14. That growth accelerated in recent years. By 2015, 59 women were serving as dean—30 percent of the county’s more than 200 law schools.

Some academics have speculated that more opportunities are opening up for women because the job of law dean has become more difficult as of late, and more men are avoiding the headaches of running a law school. Many law schools are under increasing financial and enrollment pressures at a time when the entry-level legal job market remains stagnant and bar passage rates are declining.

“It’s a tumultuous time in legal education,” said Aviva Abramovsky, who was named this week as the incoming dean of the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School. “Law schools are attracting a cohort of women who are brave. It’s possible that women see the challenge—many of us feel emotionally connected to the mission of legal education—and can make the case for the importance of law schools.”

Younger dean candidates as well as those with innovative approaches to education are getting closer looks today because many campuses want structural change, said Abramovsky, who is currently the associate dean for international initiatives and special projects at Syracuse University College of Law.

The new dean announcements have been coming steadily throughout March as schools firm up their leadership plans for the 2016-17 academic year. The majority of new deans are typically unveiled by mid-April.

This month:

  • The University of Mississippi School of Law named Susan Duncan as incoming dean. Duncan has served as dean of the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law since 2012.
  • Cathy Cox was appointed dean at Mercer University School of Law. Cox is a former Georgia Secretary of State and currently serves as the president of Young Harris College.
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law named Joan Bullock as president and dean. She is currently the associate dean of academic affairs at Florida A&M University College of Law.
  • Marcilynn Burke was selected as the next dean of the University of Oregon School of Law. Burke now serves as the associate dean of the University of Houston Law Center.
  • The University of New Hampshire School of law appointed Megan Carpenter as it next dean. Carpenter is currently the co-director of the Center for Law and Intellectual Property at Texas A&M University School of Law.
  • Wendy Hensel was named interim dean of Georgia State University College of Law. She will serve in that capacity for the upcoming academic year.

Over the same time period, just two men were appointed deans: Michael Kaufman at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and Paul Caron at Pepperdine University School of Law. Both were internal candidates.

Earlier this year, Yale Law School named Heather Gerken as it next dean; Darby Dickerson was named dean of the John Marshall Law School; Pennsylvania State University School of Law selected Hari Osofsky as dean; and Louisiana Court of Appeals Judge Madeleine Landrieu was appointed dean of Loyola University New Orleans College of Law.

“There are just a lot more women applying than there used to be,” said Thomas, who has observed two dean searches on her own campus during the past five years. “There is a lot less glamour these days in being a dean. There are more challenges, and I think it’s attracting different people in general.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ