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Dean to step down after next school year

05/06/11

Dean Wes ShinnWes Shinn, dean of the Appalachian School of Law, recently informed the school's Board of Trustees executive committee that he will be stepping down from the office on June 30, 2012. After taking a year of leave, Shinn plans on resuming his teaching career full time.

"Guiding young people through the discovery of the rule of law in the classroom is the most satisfying job in the legal profession. After 25 years of practice, and 14 years of teaching, I am excited about returning to the classroom," he said.

The advanced notice provides the Board of Trustees a full academic year in which to conduct a nationwide search for a new dean, who will then have a year to become familiar with ASL's opportunities and challenges before preparing for the next American Bar Association accreditation visit.

"The ABA Standards are being substantially revised over the next two to three years. The next accreditation visit will occur under those new standards," Shinn said. "The person who will be dean when that visit occurs needs to have sufficient time to become familiar with ASL and position it to comply with the new standards." The longer lead time will for the first time allow ASL to avoid appointing an interim dean who would serve for just one year, Shinn noted.

Judge Birg Sergent, chair of the Board of Trustees, will appoint a Dean's Search Committee to begin the process of locating a new dean. If the committee is successful, the candidate will likely be selected in the spring of 2012.

The new dean should be familiar with regulations of legal education, including both ABA standards and U.S. Department of Education expectations, Shinn said. An ideal candidate would also be "a recognized academic scholar, with experience or reputation in the natural resources arena to move ASL to the next stage of institutional growth through development of the Natural Resources Center," he added.

Shinn became the seventh dean of ASL on December 12, 2006, and is the longest-serving dean since the school opened its doors in 1997. ASL has made progress in several areas in that time, with Shinn counting fiscal stability and faculty growth as the two of which he is most proud. Highlights from Shinn's tenure include:

  • Accreditation: The American Bar Association awarded ASL full accreditation in 2006 and reaccreditation in 2008. ASL was among the first law schools required to comply with Department of Education-mandated "brightline" bar passage standards.
  • Faculty growth and stability: Since December 2006, nine tenure-earning, full-time faculty members have been recruited and hired, with seven remaining with the current faculty, constituting a growth of more than 40 percent. Of the nine new faculty, three added to gender diversity, and four added to racial diversity. During the same time period, seven faculty members have earned tenure, meaning that they have taught at ASL-and resided in Buchanan County-for at least six years. More than half of the current faculty is now tenured, a significant milestone for a relatively new law school, where faculty turnover is the expected norm.
  • Innovative 1L grading system: Recognizing increasing concerns nationwide about the impact of the first year of law school on the mental health of law students and practicing lawyers, ASL developed and implemented a grading system for first-year students that deemphasizes artificial competition by eliminating the traditional grade-based ranking among peers.
  • Administration advancements: Recognizing the need for a strong role model and mentor for female students, Shinn appointed Sandra McGlothlin as the first woman to serve as associate dean for academic affairs. He also created the position of associate dean for information services, filled by Charlie Condon, in order to supervise and coordinate media and technology on and off campus. Finally, Shinn named Tommy Sangchompuphen assistant dean for student learning and outcomes to enhance ASL's "access to legal education" mission within central Appalachia, creating a stronger focus on academic success, bar examination preparation, and exam-taking and writing skills.
  • Institutional Development: ASL created an Office of Institutional Development, which is currently staffed with an experienced professional in higher education development activities.
  • Natural Resources Law: ASL is currently developing an emphasis on natural resources law, particularly relating to development and exploitation of natural resources in the eastern U.S. ASL has partnered with the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources for a certificate of graduate studies program. It has also acquired the building at 1432 Walnut St. to renovate into a Natural Resources Center. The school is considering adding a Certificate in Natural Resources Law within the juris doctorate program and a separate but integrated Master of Laws degree in Natural Resources.
  • Fiscal stability: In each of the fiscal years since 2006, ASL has operated without public support funding and has had net positive results.
  • Campus security: An office for campus security has been established, with armed security officers present when students are on campus and during all ASL-sponsored after-hour campus events. Related safety measures and procedures have also been implemented.
  • Booth Center support: ASL has aided Southwest Virginia Community College's continued operation in Buchanan County by fully paying the operating expenses of the Booth Center, which ASL shares with SWCC, each year since it opened in January 2008.
  • Website presence: An innovative new website has been developed to enhance recruitment of qualified students and provide information to current students, faculty and staff, alumni, and the public. The site launched in March after nearly 18 months of work by ASL staff and outside professionals.

Judge Sergent expressed the Board of Trustees' appreciation for the leadership Shinn has provided during the past six years. In order to facilitate a smooth transition to the new administration next fall, Shinn will be granted development leave for the 2012-13 academic year.

"In a challenging economic and regulatory environment, ASL continues to do good work, producing community leaders who are lawyers," Shinn said.