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New dean, new math at Wash U

Click here to read a Q and A with Wash U’s newest law dean.
Nancy Staudt

Nancy Staudt

The University of Southern California’s Nancy Staudt was not starved for work when the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy gave her about 30 days to come up with a course in solving the world’s problems.

She already had a day job, two in fact, as a professor at both USC’s Gould School of Law and its Price School of Public Policy. Even so, Staudt worked around the clock and got the course underway a month after the center’s July 2012 launch. Its success culminated in a CNN segment on an idea sprung from a student presentation to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, founder and funder of the self-described post-partisan policy center.

“It’s an example of not just her ability to teach and put in the hours, but she never acted burdened by it,” said Bonnie Reiss, global director of the institute.

Those qualities should serve Staudt well when she takes over May 15 as dean of the Washington University School of Law, announced March 17. True to form, that will be just one of her jobs. In addition to joining the law faculty, she will also teach at Wash U.’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work. She leaves USC Law as vice dean, a promotion she had received the year after the Schwarzenegger Institute opened.

Staudt will succeed Kent Syverud, who after eight years as dean left the law school to become chancellor of Syracuse University.

This marks a return trip to Washington University for both Staudt and her partner, Lee Epstein, who will join the university faculty. Staudt taught at the law school from 2000 to 2006, after teaching at SUNY Buffalo Law School and before moving on to Northwestern University School of Law.

Staudt was overseas and could not be reached for comment. In a press release, she said, “I look forward to many years of collaboration with our fabulous students and faculty.”

Washington University Provost Holden Thorp, who appointed the eight-member dean search committee, could speak only briefly about the appointment. “Given her profile and given how exciting she is to be around, she should be great at recruiting students,” Thorp said.

‘Difficult decisions’

As the law school continues to attract more and more applications for fewer and fewer first-year slots, recruitment may not be Staudt’s first order of business. The description of the dean’s job posted on the university’s job board and circulated by executive search firm Korn/Ferry International said the new dean must deal with the financial challenges stemming from “a radically changed legal environment.”

According to the job description, the law school was looking for leadership on adapting, including how to resolve “questions about size.”

The law school trimmed its first-year class sizes in the last five years while its faculty and administrator ranks swelled, according to data the school reports to the American Bar Association. The school admitted 189 first-year students at the start of the most recent academic year, compared with 261 in 2009 (see related charts).

Fewer students mean less revenue, particularly when paired with the school’s increases in both the number and size of scholarship grants.

The university began reducing first-year class sizes after a boom year in applications in 2010 and a first-year class that was larger than expected and desired, Missouri Lawyers Weekly reported in August.

But while the school shrank its enrollment, it grew law school faculty and administration ranks — from 72 full-time faculty and administrators in spring 2009 to 85 that same period in 2013.

In the early 2000s, law school graduates could get great jobs and were willing to pay for a legal education, Thorp said. Law schools grew then, he said. A shift from that growth period now requires “some difficult decisions,” he said.

“It’s Nancy’s job to lead the school through a discussion of what its priorities are.”

“Things have changed. We have to examine what the priorities are,” Thorp said. “It’s Nancy’s job to lead the school through a discussion of what its priorities are.”


‘Sense of fun’

Law professor and search committee member Pauline Kim remembers Staudt from her previous time on the law faculty as someone with an eye for recognizing common interests and bringing people together. “I think it’s a very important skill for a dean to have,” Kim said.

Staudt knows Washington University’s strengths and the kind of community it has, Kim said, and she also is enthusiastic, approaching a job as an exciting challenge, instead of just a lot of work.

“She has a great sense of the fun in it,” Kim said.

Reiss, at the Schwarzenegger Institute, echoed Kim’s description of Staudt. At the institute, the pressure is on to do everything really well, Reiss said.

“She [Staudt] is always reminding me, ‘Let’s have fun while we do it,’” Reiss said.

Staudt’s office was a couple of doors down from Kim’s when Staudt was a professor at the university, and the two worked together on starting a regular workshop and reading group, Kim said. Law faculty and professors from other disciplines such as economics and politics would discuss their work.

Staudt focuses on tax, tax policy and empirical legal studies. After she left Washington University for Northwestern University, she took her study of how the law affects people’s lives and how outside factors affect judicial decisions further, Kim said. Staudt earned a doctorate in public policy from the University of Chicago, and she’s published a book titled “The Judicial Power of the Purse: How Courts Fund National Defense in Times of Crisis.”

The university did not provide information on whether Staudt had a contract for a certain term or on compensation.

Thorp declined to give details on the search of a new law dean, including how many finalists the committee recommended, but he said many people wanted the job.

“Despite all those challenges out there, there still were a lot of interested people who wanted to come run our law school,” Thorp said.

“This opportunity was an attractive one.”

Nancy Staudt’s experience

  • 2011-present: Professor, USC Gould School of Law and Price School of Public Policy; vice dean for faculty and academic affairs in the law school (2013-present); Academic director, Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy (2012-present)
  • 2006-11: Law professor, Northwestern University School of Law; faculty associate, Institute for Policy Research (2010-11) 2000-06: Law professor, Washington University School of Law
  • 1993-2000: Associate professor of law (1993-99); law professor (1999-2000), University at Buffalo School of Law
  • 1990-92: Associate, Morrison & Foerster, San Francisco
  • 1989-1990: Law clerk to Judge John Noonan Jr., 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals


  • PhD, University of Chicago, Harris School of Public Policy
  • JD, University of Minnesota Law School
  • BA, Ohio State University SOURCE: Online curriculum vitae