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Pepperdine University School of Law has named Circuit Judge Deanell Reece Tacha as its next dean. Tacha replaces former dean Kenneth Starr, who left last year to become the president of Baylor University. She has served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 1986, and was the chief judge from 2001 to 2007. Tacha has a background in legal education. The native Kansan taught at the University of Kansas School of law from 1974 to 1985, and was an associate dean for several years during that period. “Not only is she a respected jurist and legal scholar; she is experienced in academic administration having served as the chief academic officer of a major American university,” said Pepperdine Provost Darryl Tippens in a written statement. “Pepperdine is fortunate Judge Tacha has agreed to commit her energy, enthusiasm, and intellect to our university.” Tacha will assume the deanship on June 1 and plans to retire from the bench. She comes to the law school at a time when it is trying to raise its profile by lowering the faculty-to-student ratio, decreasing its class size and bolstering admission requirements. The school is currently ranked 52 by U.S. News & World Report — a significant climb from its 87th ranking in 2007. Tacha spoke with The National Law Journal last week about her new job, leaving the bench and Malibu real estate. Her answers have been edited for length. Q: What attracted you to the dean position? A: I have always, throughout my career, been involved in legal education. I’ve continued to teach quite a bit, even when I was on the bench. This gives me the opportunity once again to see legal education from the inside. I’ve been gone for 25 years. It’s a very, very good faculty. Dean Starr did an excellent job during his tenure. The school has enhanced its national reputation under his leadership, and I hope to continue to that. Q: Obviously Ken Starr was a high-profile dean who was not afraid to speak out on political issues and court cases. Will you bring a different style to the job? A: It’s hard to compare and contrast two very different people. I would say that I’m very interested in working with the students, and I’m sure he was as well. I’m very interested in being closely involved in the academic process. This is a time in legal education when it’s very important to pay attention to the employment opportunities for students and the availability of financial aid. I’m very dedicated to assisting students along the way and making sure they have a high-quality education. Q: Speaking of costs and employment opportunities, what ideas do you have to address those problems? A: I’m very anxious to get better acquainted with the Southern California legal community, because I’ve not worked in that community as much. One of the really important things for me at the outset is to get acquainted with that community and work closely with legal employers in all kinds of places: certainly law firms. My career has been mainly in public service. So I’ll want to make sure students are aware of all the opportunities and that we open up some doors for them. Q: What do you see as the biggest changes in legal education since your last law school administration job 25 years ago? A: Certainly the trajectory of rising costs. It would be naïve to say things haven’t changed enormously because of the economy. The whole legal landscape has changed. One of the things that probably has happened much more — and that Pepperdine is very involved in — is alternative dispute resolution. The Straus Institute at Pepperdine is internationally known for that, and that has really come to the fore in both legal education and the legal profession since I was last involved. Q: What are your goals for the law school? A: It’s very important in legal education right now to pay close attention to the [2007 report on legal education by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching]. That was a very high-profile and very thoughtful commission. I’ve been studying those recommendations very closely. The emphasis on skills building, it seems to me, is an important one that needs to be handled very carefully so that in the process of emphasizing those skills, we keep the traditional analytical skills that are so important to a lawyer. Q: What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenges you face? I hear that being a dean isn’t always easy. A: Listen, I’m not naïve on that score. Every profession has its challenges. One of my initial challenges is just going to be to get acquainted out there. I’ve been a Midwesterner for all of my life, really. From there on, instead of a challenge, I look forward to the opportunity to interact with the faulty, the alumni and the legal community, and see if we can continue to enhance the reputation of the school and the experience student have. Q: Let’s talk real estate. Pepperdine is perched on the cliffs of Malibu and is known for it breathtaking views of the Pacific. Is there a beach house in your future? A: As most people know, Pepperdine has some on-campus housing for faculty and staff. I’m anticipating that’s where I’ll be living. Q: That sounds pretty nice. A: That’s for sure.

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