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Law school dean to step down

Puja Parikh | Wednesday, April 9, 2008

After a decade as dean of the Law School, Patricia O’Hara will leave her position at the University in June next year because “10 years is the optimal length of time to serve as dean,” she said in a statement on March 26.

O’Hara joined the law school faulty in 1981 and nine years she later became vice president of Student Affairs. After another nine years, she left the post to become the dean of the Law School in 1999.

O’Hara said in her statement that a part of being a dean is “[knowing] when the responsibilities of leadership should be handed off to others.”

She said 10 years in office is long enough to get good work done but at the same time “it is not so long as to threaten the possibility of either a lack of freshness and optimism, or to compromise the sense of joy that must be experienced for good work to flourish,” O’Hara said.

Executive associate dean and law professor John Robinson praised O’Hara’s leadership and commitment during the last decade.

“Like her predecessor, Dean O’Hara has been fully committed to this law school’s being recognized as both a top flight law school nationally and as one that, in the Catholic tradition, invites serious and sustained consideration of the normative dimensions of the law. She has invested an enormous amount of time and an equal amount of intelligence and imagination in achieving that objective.”

O’Hara’s contributions to Notre Dame, however, were questioned in 2007, when the Law School dropped from No. 22 to No. 28 in the U.S. News and World Report Law School rankings. This was the program’s largest drop since 2000.

“The rankings are notoriously controversial, and several leading legal academics and law schools have pointed out the lack of consistency in the computation of these rankings,” said Katherine Kirkpatrick, second year law student and secretary of the Student Bar Association.

She said it’s natural for schools’ rankings to shift from year to year. This year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the Law School again at No. 22.

“I was confident that [the Law School] would rebound, and we did, back to a very solid No. 22. I think that reaffirms the notion that no one person or dean was responsible for a temporary slump.”

O’Hara said she is not currently prepared to comment on her tenure because she still has a full year as dean ahead.

“There are 15 more months before I step down as dean, and much to do during that time. Thus, I am not ready to reflect back on my tenure as dean just yet,” O’Hara said.

But in her statement she did reflect on the ways the University’s Catholic identity influenced her leadership.

“I can assure you that there has not been a day since I became dean that I have not thought about what needed to be done from the viewpoint of preserving and enhancing that [Catholic] legacy, not only for the students and faculty of the present time and for the current staff and alumni, but also for the future generations of students, faculty, staff, and alumni we cannot know, but to whom we owe as great an obligation as that we owe to those who came before us,” O’Hara said.

Her decision to step down was announced more than a full year before the completion of her tenure so University Provost Thomas Burish has enough time to assemble a committee to look for a replacement, O’Hara said. After taking a sabbatical she said she expects to return to teaching and continue being a part of the Law School.