University announces new law school dean



Daina Amorosano

A year-long national search for the sixth dean of the Villanova School of Law yielded the appointment of internal candidate John Gotanda, announced in a University-wide e-mail on Oct. 28.

There is a lot going on at the law school in the spring, according to Gotanda, who has served as associate dean for Academic Affairs, associate dean for Research, director of the J.D./M.B.A. program and a professor of law, and has also been both a legal educator and administrative leader at the law school for 16 years. 

In conjunction with his move to dean, the School will be re-evaluating its curriculum and operative structure. Though Gotanda’s appointment technically leaves his current role open, no one person will fill the role next semester. Instead, the School will take a “transition team approach,” according to Gotanda.

“We are going to use this as an opportunity to examine our entire operative structure,” he said. 

Currently, the structure calls for one administrative and one academic dean.

“We might rethink that structure,” Gotanda said. “My goal is within the spring semester to come up with a new structure — or decide that the existing structure works well.”

A committee of Villanova trustees, faculty, administrators and alumni, put together last October by University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., led the search for the new dean, according to co-chair of the search committee Paul Tufano, an ’83 alumnus of VSB and ’86 alumnus of VSL who also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees.

To be able to do justice to the search, the committee spent the first couple months doing outreach to stakeholders in the school in order to determine what it sought in the next dean, according to Tufano.

“We started talking to the stakeholders — students, faculty, staff and alumni — and engaged them in discussions,” he said. “That’s what really helped drive the position description that we announced with the search.”

To determine this position description, the committee worked with a professional recruiting firm that does a lot of work in higher education, according to Tufano.

“Like in any search process, we started with a wide pool and began to narrow it down until we identified a small group of candidates for the role,” he said.

In addition to the firm’s efforts, advertisements placed in key publications and follow-up on recommendations from alumni, faculty and friends of the law school helped the committee identify candidates, according to Tufano.

“It was a very interesting and thoughtful process,” Tufano said. “We had a terrific committee — it was a team effort including alumni, administrators and faculty.”

Less than a handful of internal and external candidates were presented to Donohue, who ultimately made the final decision, according to Tufano.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have a legal scholar and academic leader of John Gotanda’s caliber,” Donohue said.

Part of the hallmark of Gotanda’s vision is to work more closely with other schools on campus and create more active student learning — goals very much in line with the University’s Strategic Plan, which emphasizes the integration of schools.

“I see our program of legal education being more interdisciplinary, drawing upon our traditions and strengths and bridging the gap more between theory and practice,” Gotanda said. 

In addition to the importance of service learning, his vision emphasizes both global experiences for students and interdisciplinary curricula — including plans to draw on a wide variety of programs to potentially partner with.

“I’d like to open law school classes to grad students and have grad classes opened up to law students, which we currently don’t do,” he said. “The more we give our students the opportunity to take courses in different disciplines, it will make them better lawyers — particularly in a world that has become a lot more complex.”

Gotanda’s appointment as dean will take effect Jan. 1, 2011, relieving Acting Dean Doris Brogan from her current post.

Brogan was appointed dean of the school after former Dean Mark Sargent’s sudden resignation in the summer of 2009, which cited personal and medical reasons, according to an e-mail Donohue sent to students, alumni and friends of the law school and came in the wake of the revelation of his involvement with a local prostitution ring. In his e-mail to the community, Donohue commended Brogan for empowering the “community to thrive throughout the search process.” But Sargent’s resignation did not influence the committee’s vision for the next dean, according to Tufano.

“The circumstances of his departure were unique and were not anything related to the law school, so it never became an issue with the prospective candidates,” Tufano said.

Gotanda, who found out about his appointment only a day before the official announcement, has already had to adjust his schedule, attending two alumni events this week, truncating his upcoming trip to speak at the University of Belgrade — and making time to respond to hundreds of congratulatory e-mails.