Syracuse Law Dean to Step Down, Successor Must Meet a High Bar
Syracuse University College of Law Dean Hannah Arterian will step down from her post on August 1 to focus on “research and scholarly activities,” the school announced Monday. Board of Advisors Distinguished Professor William C. Banks will take over as interim dean.
After receiving her J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law with high distinction, Arterian practiced corporate tax law at Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood. She then moved onto academia, teaching at Arizona State, the University of Houston, and the University of Iowa law schools, most notably serving as associate dean at Arizona State (ASU) for ten years. She began her tenure as dean of Syracuse Law in 2002.
Arterian expressed enthusiasm for the job from the very beginning. In a 2002 ASU press release announcing her move to Syracuse, Arterian commented, “I think what drove me to apply [to Syracuse Law] was the school’s strong reputation…When I had a chance to spend time getting to know the faculty, I became even more enthusiastic. The law school is well positioned, and I am happy to have the chance to move the school even further forward.”
It seems she has been successful. During her tenure, Arterian increased the number of the college’s free legal clinics from five to nine and launched several new internship and externship opportunities, including the Washington D.C. externship program. She oversaw the establishment of legal centers and institutes, including the Institute for the Study of the Judiciary, Politics, and the Media and the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT). Perhaps her crowning moment came in August 2014, when the College of Law relocated to Dineen Hall, a 200,000 square foot building that allowed the entire Syracuse Law community to operate within a single facility. The building was ranked the 25th most architecturally attractive law school in the world, according to Syracuse Law. Syracuse Law interim Vice Chancellor and Provost Liz Liddy stated,
[Arterian] has ushered in a new era of success for the college. Last year, the College of Law bar exam pass rate was the highest it has been among the law schools in New York State. We are grateful for her service and thankful that she will remain at the University as a member of the faculty
Liddy appointed founding director of INSCT William C. Banks as interim dean effective August 1. Banks joined the Syracuse Law faculty in 1978 and was named a Meredith Professor Teaching Excellence in 1998. He has authored several books on national security, including “Combating Terrorism, Strategies, and Approaches” and “National Security Law and the Power of the Pulse;” serves on the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Law and National Security; and is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of National Security Law & Policy. “Professor Banks is a tremendous teacher, scholar and leader of INSCT, I am certain he will be a strategic interim dean and an advocate for the College of Law,” Arterian said in the announcement.
He certainly has big shoes to fill, especially in today’s stressful law school environment. Law school deans across the country are struggling with the lowest number of applicants in four decades, fueled by an abysmal legal job market. Potential applicants are increasingly making the decision that incurring $100,000-$200,000 in student debt is not worth it if they do not attend an elite law school that can land them a job after they graduate. For the vast majority of law schools, this means adapt or die.
George Washington University Dean Blake Morant said at a panel hosted by Lawyers of Color, “Every single law school that I know of is doing something to not only innovate, but also to add value to what they’re giving to students.”
Doing so may involve lowering tuition costs to entice applicants, like the University of Illinois College of Law. Georgetown University Law Center is “personalizing” its admissions process, with alumni and admissions officers interviewing more applicants. Other schools are prioritizing practical training for students. In response to the long-time criticism that law schools teach too much theory that is not relevant in day-to-day firm operations, Villanova University School of Law Dean John Gotanda told the Washington Post that the school is now requiring students to take a course on the economics of law firms in case they want to open their own practice.
Even so, it is likely that Banks is going to have to make some compromises. Well funded elite programs are able to offer significant scholarship money to qualified applicants, eliminating the incentive for students to attend less prestigious schools to lower student debt. To combat this trend, schools like George Mason University School of Law had to ease their admissions standards to maintain enrollment.
For Banks to be successful, he is going to have to perform a balancing act. Fewer applications means there is going to be less funding to provide additional experiential learning opportunities and scholarships to attract students. That is precisely what he is going to have to provide if he wants Syracuse Law to survive. It would be wise for him to take some notes from his predecessor.