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A cyclist pedals past the UND Law School in Grand Forks. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

UND law school looks internally after failed dean search

GRAND FORKS — Although an external search for a new University of North Dakota School of Law dean was not successful, faculty, staff and students say an internal candidate could end up being a better option in the long run.

Brad Myers has been serving as interim dean since August. He took over from Kathryn Rand, who had served as dean since 2009 and chose to step down from the position to return to the law school faculty.

A search committee made up of professors, alumni and others was working to fill the position since July. The committee was recently disbanded following the unsuccessful external search.

In November, four finalists for the dean's position visited campus.

Ultimately, Elizabeth Ann Warner, who had served as acting dean of the University of Kansas Law School in 2016, and Brian Gallini, who serves as professor and senior associate dean for faculty at the University of Arkansas School of Law, were each offered the dean’s position and turned it down. Warner declined to comment on the reason she turned down the job. Gallini did not return a request for comment.

Last week, UND Provost Tom DiLorenzo held a forum for students, staff and faculty to update them on the search and ask for their nominations for an internal candidate, a move that surprised some students.

Wednesday, DiLorenzo said having more people participating in the nominations helps with the hiring process to find the right person for the dean’s position. The provost said his office has already received a lot of nominations.

DiLorenzo is also pushing “self-nominations” for the role.

“We should all be asking ourselves ‘How can I help? What can I do?,’” he said, noting that even if faculty and staff aren’t interested in being dean there are other ways for them to help the law school thrive.

People inside and outside the law school expressed mixed feelings about the external search concluding.

Logan Caldwell, a first-year law student, said there are pros and cons to having an external search.

“If you do a national search, the idea is you bring in somebody with a different kind of viewpoint and somebody that has done things a different way in a different part of the country,” he said.

There are benefits to an internal search, especially in a smaller state like North Dakota, which only has one law school that produces most of the state’s lawyers, Caldwell said.

“Just because they are from the school doesn’t mean that they don’t know other ways to do things,” he said.

Zack Pelham, president of the State Bar Association of ND Board of Governors, sent a letter on Feb. 5 to DiLorenzo about the external search concluding. Pelham was a part of the search committee for the new dean.

In the letter, Pelham said the Board of Governors voted unanimously to “urge” DiLorenzo “to consider nominations of both external and internal candidates” for the dean’s position at the law school. The letter stated the State Bar is neither opposed to an internal candidate nor is it in favor of an external candidate.

Bar pass rates

While the school is in in the process of searching for a new dean, it is also addressing recent reporting by USA Today surrounding bar passage rates.

UND was among the lower scoring schools across the country for bar passage rates within two years, according to data from the American Bar Association.

UND’s bar pass rate is around 73 percent over two years, according to ABA data. While that number may be on the lower end for law schools around the country, interim dean Brad Myers said there are many factors that play into it.

Myers said the university has group of Canadian students who attend the school. In 2015, 13 Canadian students graduated from the school. Most of the students ultimately went back to Canada and practiced law in the country. However, because Canadians do not take a bar exam those numbers don’t get counted, Myers said.

Some Native American reservations also do not require people to take a bar exam, Myers added, so those numbers of graduates who go to work on reservations also do not get factored in.

Additionally, because the school has among the fewest number of test takers, even one or two people failing the bar can have an impact on the final percentage numbers, Myers said.

In 2015 and 2016, a total of 56 students took the bar exam with 41 passing the exam within the two-year time period.

The numbers are similar to the University of South Dakota, which had 55 bar takers over the two-year period and had a 72 percent pass rate.

The average GPA for students at the law school was around 3.36, which is slightly above average for schools across the country.