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Newton named new Law School dean

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, April 2, 2009

University President Fr. John Jenkins appointed Nell Jessup Newton as the new dean of the Law School, the University announced Tuesday.

Newton currently serves as chancellor and dean of the Hastings College of the Law at the University of California and will assume her position on July 1, according to a press release.

Patricia O’Hara, current Law School dean, announced her intention to step down from the position last March.

O’Hara told The Observer she has interacted with Newton through a national group of law school deans and that Newton is “highly regarded” within that group.

“She will bring great experience and energy to the position,” O’Hara said.

Newton’s area of expertise lies in American Indian law and has served as dean of the law schools at the University of Connecticut and the University of Denver, according to the release.

“I am humbled and excited to have been chosen to lead the Notre Dame Law School and be part of the great intellectual tradition and mission of the University,” Newton said in the release. “It is an honor to follow one of the great law deans, Patricia O’Hara, who has done so much for the law school during her tenure.”

Jenkins welcomed Newton to the Notre Dame community in the press release.

“In Nell Newton, Notre Dame has gained a superb scholar, a proven academic leader, and a person deeply committed to the University’s mission,” he said.

O’Hara, who has served as dean of the Law School for the past 10 years, said she felt it was time for a change.

“It’s a privilege to serve and a corollary of that privilege is knowing when you think the time is ripe for a change in leadership, and I felt the time was ripe,” she said. “It can be a way of revitalizing the entire school.”

In 2007, The Observer reported O’Hara was strongly criticized by students when the Law School dropped six spots in the U.S. News and World Report Law School rankings – from No. 22 to No. 28.

Looking back, O’Hara said that although the drop in rankings is not irrelevant, it is not a total measure of the quality of the school.

“The Law School is currently situated in a group of schools in which the differential point in the rankings is very compressed,” she said. “The slightest blip in any of the individual metric measures in the rankings formula can reshuffle those schools.”

In 2008, the Law School rebounded back to its previous No. 22 ranking.

O’Hara said she is proud of the high quality faculty and students at the Law School. She said 17 of the current 38 faculty members have joined during her tenure as dean.

“I always think people are your most important accomplishment,” she said. “I don’t think of this as my personal accomplishment, but as the accomplishment of the Law School as a community.”

O’Hara said she believes one of the strengths of the Law School is its dedication to exploring the integration of faith and reason in the context of law.

“This enlivens the discussion of some of the most important questions facing society,” she said.

O’Hara said she will be on sabbatical for the 2009-2010 school year and then return as a faculty member of the Law School.