Dan Baldwin 2014-01-29 23:40:07
Overseeing The Second Founding of ASU Law School Doug Sylvester, dean of Arizona State University’s law school, believes the institution is at a crucial moment in its history. Many of the original faculty and alumni who helped found and forge the college are retiring or have retired. As a result, more than half of the school’s faculty was hired within the last 10 years. Fifty years after its founding, the college is undergoing a “second founding,” he says. “We can rebuild a school in one of two ways,” Sylvester says. “We can do it very simply and try to recreate what we have. Or we can think very carefully about what we want this law school to look like in 20, 30 or 40 years. So we’re redesigning the whole law school from the bottom up, including the building, and in some ways its mission. It’s a critical period and to make the right decisions, it’s important to think about what this law school was and where it’s going.” Wandering in the Wilderness Sylvester is a citizen of Canada and the United States. He earned his undergraduate degree in medieval history from the University of Toronto. He earned his Juris Doctor at the University of Buffalo School of Law in 1994 and his LL.M from New York University in 1995. Before joining ASU, he was a Bigelow fellow and lecturer-in-law at the University of Chicago, a lecturer-in-law at Northwestern University and an attorney in the global e-commerce practice group at the law firm of Baker & McKenzie in Chicago. He also clerked for U.S. District Judge C. Clyde Atkins in the Federal District Court of Miami. Despite all these positions, Sylvester always wanted to teach. While in law school, Sylvester became a teaching assistant for a law professor and found that he loved teaching. His professor suggested that he look into an academic career. Sylvester says, “I had a pretty tough road ahead of me. I certainly didn’t follow the traditional path. I wandered the wilderness for a while doing different things before I landed here at ASU. At every stage of my career I was teaching. I always found time to teach in the afternoons or in the evenings and I was always writing. I’ve always been grateful for this faculty taking a chance on me because I didn’t have the resume that looked like an ideal law professor.” Rising to an Academic Challenge Sylvester believes the school’s biggest academic challenge is to convince the public of its excellence. He says that ASU has become the pre-eminent law school in the Southwest and the mountain states, one of the most prominent law schools in the nation, and that the school has grown faster and risen further than any other law school in the country in the last 10 years. Proof of the advanced thinking espoused by the law school is the ASU alumni law group, Sylvester’s concept. Much like a medical teaching hospital, the school’s law firm will employ newly-minted lawyers to represent everyday Arizonans. The nonprofit, educationally focused, law firm will provide low-cost, high quality legal services by, as Sylvester puts it, “taking the profit out.” This allows the law group to hire very experienced attorneys to supervise the young lawyers. “Our students will learn how to practice law in the real world and learn how to use the same skills that made them successful as students and translate that into the market,” Sylvester says. Clients will be paying clients, but the firm will also probably be engaged in pro bono work when the case matches the educational needs of the students. Innovation that serves the students, the legal community and the community at large is key to the future success of the school. Sylvester says, “We’ve been more innovative, more nimble and more responsive to the legal profession than anybody out there. People view law schools with a pretty cynical eye. What we’re trying to do is convince people that what we’ve done here is real and permanent and done for all the right reasons. We’re not changing it. We’re not going back. We’re going to keep succeeding. It’s just a question of making people understand that.” Exponential Growth Means Exponential Responsibilities “What is the difference between being an instructor and a dean? Meetings, meetings and more meetings,” Sylvester says. “I loved being a law professor—but being dean brings with it a much higher level of obligation to the institution and is one way I can give back. The number of things I deal with has gone up exponentially, but the time I have to deal with them has gone down exponentially,” he says. Sylvester feels a need to be out in the community. He estimates that 70 percent of his time out of the office is invested with alumni, donor communities and members of the legal community. He believes in direct contact with these communities to find out what’s going on and what the school and its faculty can do better as a law school, to serve their interests, and to make the law school more relevant to their needs. “How does this law school play a relevant and productive role for our alumni out in the community? We can educate and we can network,” Sylvester says. “I think about what we can do to continue our graduates’ education. They’ve already paid for it once so we aren’t looking for people to pay anywhere near that price again. I want them to think about coming back and getting new degrees and continuing their education. That’s one piece of it. The other piece is that we’re permanent. We as an institution must play a greater role in networking in the community—in getting our new graduates in better contact with established alumni and showing the business and private communities that this law school is making a positive difference every day.” Becoming dean has given Sylvester an expanded view of the law school. “You can never forget how important all the pieces (faculty, staff, students, the community) are to the success of the school,” he says. “When you become dean you realize how all those other pieces fit. I didn’t fully appreciate how important those other constituencies are until I became dean. I think it’s very difficult to see all the different pieces. When you become dean you discover that other people don’t know how important each factor is to the school’s success. You need to be able to convey how all these different pieces have to be in place for a law school to succeed and to be great. Each piece is important.” Sylvester is in the office most days by six or seven and he usually doesn’t get home until around nine or 10 because of the large number of community events he attends. “I believe I have to wave the law school flag because there is a lot of value in those events, so it’s part of the job,” he says. “If I expect people to give back to this institution and to support the next generation of lawyers and colleagues, I have to give back as well. That means, at the most, my time and energy yet I also have to show that I believe in what we are doing.” Sylvester points out that he has donated more than $30,000 of his own money to support student scholarships and also points out that many faculty donate generously. Personal Life Sylvester and his wife of 20 years, Anna, have a 5-year-old daughter, Darcy. He is an avid tennis player. He also loves movies. “It’s a passion, the same with my wife. It’s how we met. He enjoys escapist movies. His favorite television programs include ”The Wire,” “Game of Thrones,” HBO movies and “Hannibal,” which he finds incredibly interesting, if a little disturbing. “I watch way too much TV. That’s my guilty pleasure,” he says. Sylvester is a big believer in globalization and in Phoenix’s need to engage beyond the United States. He backs that belief with his active membership on the Phoenix Committee of Foreign Relations as well as the Canada-Arizona Business Council. He is also on the board of directors for Central Arizona Shelter Services. One of his goals is to be out and on as many committees and to be involved in many community groups as is practical. “This goes back to being a dean who is part of the community,” Sylvester says. “I need to understand what the community needs so I can know what the law school needs to do.” Before becoming dean, Sylvester was an academic writer, dealing primarily with scientific topics, such as nanotechnology, and how the law should respond to them. In that type of writing the author is often trying to take very complex concepts and simplify them in ways that a broader audience can understand. It’s a field Sylvester looks forward to exploring further. “I don’t have the time to write like I did because I feel we’re at a pretty crucial stage regarding the law school’s future,” he says. “I felt that when I took this job I needed to be 100 percent committed to being an administrator for the law school rather than being a scholar. I’ll go back to that part of my life, teaching and writing, when I retire.” Sylvester is also fascinated by technology of any kind. “I like to know what’s coming next. The things I used to love, I don’t care much about any more. I want to know what’s going to be there tomorrow,” he says.
Published by Target Market Media . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digitaleditions.walsworthprintgroup.com/article/DEAN+DOUG+SYLVESTER/1622617/194751/article.html.