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Garry W. Jenkins
Garry W. Jenkins

Outgoing dean calls liberal arts a solid foundation for legal education

After serving seven years as dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law at Minnesota Law, Garry Jenkins is bidding farewell to an “extremely welcoming” legal community in the Twin Cities. Jenkins has been tapped to be president of Bates College, a liberal arts college in Lewiston, Maine.

Jenkins became the 11th dean of University of Minnesota Law School in 2016. Previously, Jenkins was associate dean for academic affairs at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Jenkins attended Haverford College, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1992. He received a J.D. from Harvard University.

During his time at Minnesota Law, Jenkins developed the institution tremendously, improving the academic caliber and diversity of incoming law students, eliminating a budget deficit, and strengthening the school’s approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. His success at the law school is part of the reason why he decided it was time he could take another role.

“I think that the law school is in great shape,” Jenkins said in an interview. “We’ve done so much over these past seven years. We’ve made major strides in so many different areas. I feel like I’m leaving the law school in a very strong position where I felt comfortable that the next leader can step in and continue on this path.”

While Jenkins believes the law school is better than how he found it, he admits that the next leader will have some challenges to address. “I think we’re still in a place where legal education is recovering from the downturn that we saw six, seven years ago,” Jenkins stated. “Any public institution needs to be concerned about resources going forward — so continuing on that path to strengthen our financial position, particularly vis-à-vis our peers, is important.”

Jenkins also stresses that, while the law school has made great strides in the DEI area, there is room for improvement. “I think there’s still undone work that I would have liked to do with respect to our faculty hiring, particularly expanding the number of faculty members of color.”

The ninth president of Bates College, Jenkins is also the first Black president. “I was really drawn by Bates’ history of excellence, its founding story — it was one of the first colleges on the East Coast that was founded by abolitionists and open to all students, and women, at its founding in 1855,” Jenkins explained. “Really, it’s one of the gems of undergraduate education.”

A liberal arts college graduate himself, Jenkins extols the rigor and skills taught in a liberal arts education. “The liberal arts offers the best form of undergraduate education — lots of focus on critical thinking, writing, and communication skills. Those are the things that great lawyers need,” Jenkins said. “Liberal arts education prepares law students well. It is something that I have noticed as a faculty member and administrator. When I hear about applications from students who attended great liberal arts college, my heart skips a beat because I know that those students will be very well-equipped not only to succeed in law school, but ultimately to succeed and be leaders in our profession.”

Jenkins sees additional similarities between liberal arts colleges and law school. “In many ways, law schools are not too dissimilar from small, liberal arts college,” Jenkins said. “We have our own admissions, our own student affairs, our own career services, our own advancement. Our field is interdisciplinary, by nature. That also translates. The skills of being a lawyer actually translate as well: the ability to problem-solve, the ability to see things from multiple perspectives.”

Liberal arts colleges are also seeing the similarities between law school and liberal arts. Jenkins said that, in the last month, the dean of Howard University School of Law, Danielle Holley, was appointed president of Mount Holyoke, and the dean of University of Florida Levin College of Law, Laura Rosenbury, was named president of Barnard College. “We will have a law dean contingent this year,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins looks back fondly at his time at Minnesota. When asked what he was most proud about accomplishing, he responded, “There isn’t one thing I would say. What I am most proud of us is how we did all the things that we have done. And we did them together. We did them by faculty, staff, students, and alumni, linking arms together and supporting a shared vision, with everyone contributing towards that.”

Jenkins leaves Minnesota Law on June 30. An interim dean will be appointed for the 2023-24 academic year. A national search for a new dean will select Jenkins’ successor.

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