4 finalists left in search for UF law dean
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.
Four finalists have emerged as candidates to be the next dean of the University of Florida Levin College of Law after two days of face-to-face interviews.
The search committee appointed to sift through the stack of applicants interviewed 8 semi-finalists at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center Friday and Saturday, asking them for their views on the future of legal education in a dramatically changing profession. Most of all they wanted to be sure that the candidates they select can articulate a vision for how the college can meet the challenges of shaping a curriculum for its students to equip them so they can find work during this era of change.
“This is a pivotal hire in the history of this institution,” said committee member Scott Hawkins, a shareholder in the Jones Foster Johnston & Stubbs law firm in Palm Beach County and a past president of the Florida Bar. “The next 10 years for the College of Law are critical, a chance to be firmly planted among the top 10.”
Ultimately, President Bernie Machen and Provost Joe Glover will make the final call in picking a replacement for outgoing Dean Robert Jerry, who will step down in June after 11 years.
Narrowing the list to four was a tough decision, Hawkins and other committee members said, because there were so many good candidates, including Martha Barnett, the first female partner at the Holland & Knight law firm, and Rodney Smolla, a former college president who has also served as dean of two law schools.
“They were all special people, all immensely talented,” said Hawkins, who also is a graduate of the UF College of Law.
The four candidates selected to come back to UF toward the middle of February will be wined and dined and undergo more in-depth interviews and meetings with faculty and students, and they will be given a tour of the Levin College of Law and the university.
The final four are:
R. Alexander Acosta, dean, Florida International University College of Law, Miami; former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
David Brennen, dean and professor of law, University of Kentucky College of Law, Lexington; former deputy director, Association of American Law Schools; UF Law graduate.
Samuel Donaldson, professor, Georgia State University College of Law, Atlanta; former associate dean, University of Washington School of Law, Seattle; UF Law graduate.
David Huebner, former ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa; has lived in Wellington, New Zealand from 2009 until January of this year; former managing partner Coudert Brothers law firm.
The men offer a diverse pool to choose from. Acosta is Hispanic, the son of parents who emigrated to Miami in the 1960s. Brennen is African-American, raised in Gainesville. Huebner is the third openly gay ambassador in U.S. history.
During their 75-minute interviews with the search committee, the candidates spoke about UF’s diversity, its rich tradition and its standing among other law schools nationally.
A big concern was figuring out how to align the law curriculum to meet the needs of the changing profession, with firms asking graduates to be practice-ready, Acosta said. The university shouldn’t lose its academic traditions, he said, but “at the same time we need to adapt and change the way we teach.
Donaldson said he didn’t agree with the prevailing opinion that the profession was changing that dramatically, saying it could even correct itself by 2016.
“I don’t subscribe to that, but it is a good opportunity for law schools to look at their curriculum,” he said.