Former Mo. Supreme Court Justice takes the reins
The revolving door of Saint Louis University Law School deans has come to an end. Bookending a tumultuous six months for the school, the Honorable Michael Wolff was selected as the new dean on March 5. Wolff was suggested to President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., following a national search. He replaces Thomas Keefe, who abruptly resigned his position as interim dean on March 4. Keefe had served as interim dean since August 2012 when then-dean Annette Clark resigned, citing various grievances with Biondi and the SLU administration.
The elevation of Wolff from faculty to dean was met with praise throughout both the SLU and St. Louis legal communities and Wolff looks to move the school out of a period of uncertainty into a period of new growth. His appointment came as the school prepares to move from its current location into the multi-million dollar Joe and Loretta Scott Center in August. Since Clark’s departure, the school has dropped out of the U.S. News and World Report top-100 law schools.
“As a longtime member of the SLU community, Dean Wolff is dedicated to the mission of our School of Law and to ensuring that its mission remains at the heart of the outstanding legal education we provide to our students,” Biondi said.
Wolff indicated that he was excited to move the Law School away from the chaos of the previous leadership transition.
“It is important to move beyond recent distractions and get the word out about the excellence of our Law School,” he said. He hailed the faculty as key to moving the school forward.
“Members of our faculty are outstanding and committed scholars. A great faculty means outstanding programs, which can bring both regional and national recognition,” Wolff said.
“Our Center for Health Law Studies has again been ranked first in the nation, now for the 10th consecutive year,” Wolff said. “This ranking … exemplifies SLU Law’s approach: academic rigor in substantive, challenging courses, with deep connections to the profession and to the community.”
Wolff was chosen based primarily on three qualifications: his deep roots with the SLU community, previous experience practicing law and leadership on the committee, which developed the floor-plan for the Scott Center.
Wolff joined SLU as an assistant professor in 1975 and eventually obtained a full professorship.
He was named to the Missouri Supreme Court as an associate justice in 1998, including a term as the Chief Justice of the Court, where he served before returning to SLU in 2011.
Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Harshman held the final interview in the selection process.
“My criterion was to identify an individual who can lead the Law School in a challenging time,” Harshman said. “[With] enrollments declining nationally, and the job market for new graduates having diminished over the past few years, I was hoping for a dean who would have a vision to lead our school through some tough years ahead.”
Wolff said he was drawn back to academia from the High Court because of the high regard he held for the faculty and students.
“When I returned full time to the faculty in 2011, my faith in the school’s principles and mission was reinvigorated,” Wolff said. “I’ve [seen] how these busy students … cared for their fellow students when they suffered illnesses or had to be away from school to attend to a dying parent. I knew that I had returned to a community that truly felt like a family.”
He also saw an opportunity to move the Law School forward, both physically and in pursuit of the Jesuit mission.
“The new location – with ready access to the courts, agencies and nearby firms — will further enhance our ability to integrate our demanding academic curriculum with practical, problem-solving experiences that will challenge our students and help them become the next generation of leaders in our profession, “ Wolff said.