Experienced Dean or Politically Connected Lobbyist: Your USD Law Dean Finalists

Dean Kevin Cole

After five years as Dean of the University of San Diego School of Law, on June 3, 2010, Dean Kevin Cole announced that he was stepping down effective Summer 2011 to return to his faculty position. With this announcement, the school formulated a search committee, led by Associate Dean Mary Jo Wiggins. The committee of students, faculty members, administrators, and alumni searched for Dean candidates to fill the large and beloved shoes of Dean Cole.

In December 2010, the University announced three finalists for the Dean Position: Dean Robert Ahdieh, Mr. Nicholas Allard, and Professor Lawrence Mitchell.

In January, the three candidates came to campus for a two-day marathon filled with interviews, question and answer periods for both faculty and students, presentations, and tours. On Friday, January 28, the USD Law Faculty voted on its recommendation for Dean and submitted it to the University of San Diego Provost. Shortly thereafter, Professor Mitchell indicated to the Provost and Dean Wiggins that he was withdrawing his name from consideration for family reasons. The Provost will make the final decision, and after a period of negotiations and finalizing the selection, the Provost will make an official announcement.

The Dean’s Search Committee was able to bring very distinctive candidates to become the next USD Law Dean. Both Dean Ahdieh of Emory Law School and Mr. Allard of Patton Boggs would bring distinguishing characteristics and charm to the USD Law program.

CANDIDATE ONE: ROBERT AHDIEH

Due to his busy schedule, Dean Ahdieh was unable to find time to respond to e-mail questions. The synopsis below is based purely on his on-campus visit.

Robert Ahdieh

Dean Ahdieh is the current Dean of Faculty at Emory Law School. He is also the Director for the Center on Federalism and Intersystemic Governance. Further, he is the only candidate with a connection to California, as he is a member of the California State Bar. Dean Ahdieh brings immense experience in working in an administrative capacity and possesses knowledge of how to make decisions that intertwine the needs of both students and faculty. Therefore, it came as little surprise that Dean Ahdieh answered many of the questions asked by students by explaining the processes in how these questions came to fruition or how the information was determined.  For example, when asked about how he would recommend ensuring that our rankings continue to move upward, Dean Ahdieh specifically detailed how U.S. News and World Report calculated rankings and the different factors that contribute to the final rankings.

His vision for law schools is to help students with professional development and ensure that the curriculum teaches necessary skills to secure professional opportunities and for students to be able to specialize in different fields of law. He also noted that, if he were Dean, he plans on communicating with every single judge across the nation in hopes of increasing USD’s national visibility and opportunities for students to receive job offers and clerkships. When asked what specifically he would bring to USD Law, he detailed the job responsibility of a law school dean.

Dean Ahdieh is easy to make laugh and an animated speaker. Unlike the other candidate, Dean Ahdieh has specific higher administration experience in the legal realm and therefore has considerable experience working with alumni, career services, students, faculty, and professionals. Dean Ahdieh believes that he could help USD grow as a law school. Although he perhaps lacked some specifics in his plan for expansion, his hope and drive is openly noticeable.

CANDIDATE TWO: NICHOLAS ALLARD

Nicholas Allard

Unlike the other candidate, Mr. Allard has never truly worked in academia. Although he has some experience as a visiting professor at a number of prestigious universities, he is primarily a practitioner. Mr. Allard is a partner at D.C.-based Patton Boggs, LLP, one of the top law firms in the nation. Mr. Allard has been ranked as one of D.C.’s top lobbyists in both 2009 and 2010 and has written and spoken on a variety of issues across the nation. Mr. Allard’s political acumen becomes evident when conversing with him, and his connections in the political world are vast. When asked what he could bring to USD, Mr. Allard was very clear to note his rolodex of connections and his ability to introduce a strong network of political personnel.

Similar to Dean Ahdieh, Mr. Allard is very charming and easy to make laugh. He is honest and well-spoken, and his competitive nature quickly arises within even the shortest of conversations. He has broad, expansive ideas and feels that being a Dean would be the ultimate position for a practitioner like himself.  Alhough, similar to Dean Ahdieh, Mr. Allard seemed to lack specific ideas or plans for USD Law in particular, he would bring a very practical and professional approach to the program. 

When asked about how he would help increase the USD’s bar exam passage rate, he was able to outline some ideas that worked for several other universities, including free weekend 2-day preparatory sessions. Mr. Allard also noted that he would like to work with Career Services to help find money to place and fund post-graduate and post-bar students in public interest positions. He envisions that students will be able to work at these public interest offices, post-bar, and receive pay until they officially pass the bar. Furthermore, Mr. Allard noted that he would like to look into the possibility of expanding student reach into the D.C. market. Mr. Allard was clear to remark upon his rolodex of D.C. connections and his practical abilities of introducing students into that competitive market. Mr. Allard has the charisma and ambition to really help USD Law expand and grow, and furthermore, he has the political connections to be able to communicate his vision to a massive audience. 

Both candidates have very distinct backgrounds, experiences, and personalities. They have specific ideas of what being the Dean of USD Law will mean to them as individuals and also to the San Diego community and the USD legal family. The decision that the Provost must make is a difficult and important one. Either of these individuals can offer something unique to USD Law, and the chosen candidate will certainly affect our growth and future for the next decade, if not longer.

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