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Publication Date

January 2000


After reaching a certain level of momentum, a law school can pretty much run itself. Even in the absence of leadership, the law school will continue to function as it has in the past; students will come each year, and classes will be held. A sort of inertia results, in which nothing changes; things continue as they always have. Inertia is a dangerous thing in education, and it is the responsibility of the law school's dean to prevent it. A law school dean is charged with contributing to the development of a vision that will guide the law school in a positive direction. For this reason, one of my first steps when I became the Dean of American University's Washington College of Law (WCL) in 1995 was to define the goals of the institution. Establishing clear goals is crucial to keeping the law school community focused in a common direction and to providing us with inspiration and ample opportunity for reflection. In a decentralized law school environment, the only way a school can move forward is to ensure that everyone is aware of the institution's objectives and is contributing creatively to their development. To enable every member of the community to contribute to the fullest extent possible, it is essential to foster an open, participatory environment in which the means to achieve objectives are discussed and debated. At WCL, we have accomplished this through frequent faculty and senior staff meetings, where everyone is encouraged to share his or her point of view. WCL's administration has also cultivated a dynamic atmosphere where no idea or proposal is seen as too far-fetched to be considered. In this essay, I will share our institution's goals and some of the ways in which our community has sought to attain them. The goals we established for WCL are: (1) to break down barriers and build new relationships, internally and externally, at home and abroad; (2) to provide quality legal education that is centered on the student; (3) to create a renowned academic center addressing key issues of our time; (4) to develop a rich scholarly life; and (5) to make public service and pro bono activities a prominent part of WCL life. Below, I will touch briefly on each of these goals and how we have sought to implement them.

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