Ronald Weich will go from lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill to navigating the political inroads of the university system after the University of Baltimore School of Law named him as its new dean this week.
Weich, who comes from a political and government background, is being heralded by school officials as a non-traditional choice that will bring change to the 1,100-student school.
“[Weich] has a very broad range and I think legal education needs to be very future-looking because it needs to change,” said University President Robert. L. Bogomolny. “We really needed leadership that could work together with faculty to agree and collaborate on what the next stages of legal education will look like.”
Weich was chosen from five finalists and will start at the law school the first week of July, almost a year after former dean Phillip J. Closius resigned from the law school.
Weich has worked as the assistant attorney general for legislative affairs in the United States Department of Justice since President Barack Obama appointed him in 2009. Weich is the department’s representative in congress, persuading members to pass legislation in the interests of the department.
Weich said he hopes to increase the law school’s visibility locally and nationally, partly through his government connections.
“I would want to give the law school a higher profile in Washington and in federal government circles,” Weich said. “I think that could help students. I’d like to bring more people from Washington to the school to contribute to the intellectual climate at the school. We need to take the strengths of the school and take the school to the next level of excellence and prominence.”
Weich worked on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) staff from 2007 to 2009 as a chief counsel as well as a stint from 2005 to 2006. From 1997 to 2004, Weich worked as an attorney at law firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP’s office in Washington, D.C., but also spent time at the firm’s Baltimore office.
Before that, Weich worked for the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) from 1990 to 1997, serving as the senator’s chief counsel from 1995 to 1997. Weich has an undergraduate degree from Columbia University in New York and graduated from Yale Law School in 1983.
A different kind of political arena
While Weich does not have a background in academia, law school officials said they thought Weich’s experience in political dealings and management at the Department of Justice would translate into heading a law school.
“He’s been very successful at the things he’s done,” said interim dean F. Michael Higginbotham, who did not apply for the permanent post. “I believe his skill set is something that’s transferable to academia with managing a staff and a budget at the Department of Justice. He has management skills for running a law school. As a person who has dealt with political arena, clearly I think he has the political skills to deal with various constituencies at the law school and the state of Maryland.”
Weich said he looks at the new role as just a different kind of political arena.
“I’ve learned a lot about politics,” Weich said. “I think being dean is partly about being political. It’s about understanding views of different stakeholders, finding common ground and finding and mobilizing people to get behind that agenda.”
A 14-member search committee chose five finalists for the dean position in mid-March. The candidates came to campus between March 26 and April 25 for two days of interviews and meeting students, faculty and staff.
“Everyone is unique in their own way,” said professor Michele E. Gilman, chair of the search committee. “I think Ron is a nontraditional candidate in that he does not come from within academia.”
The other finalists included Nicholas Allard, chair of the lobbying and election law practice at Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, D.C.; Penelope Bryan, dean of Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif.; Alfredo P. García, professor and former dean of St. Thomas University School of Law at Florida University and Patricia Salkin, associate dean at Albany Law School.
The search committee discussed its choices in a half-day meeting and then submitted their recommendations to the faculty, who also voted. Eventually the pool was narrowed to three candidates from which Bogomolny chose. Bogomolny said he met with Weich again for a couple hours before deciding to name him dean.
The 14-member search committee has been looking for a new dean since last fall after former dean Closius resigned amid controversy in July. Closius had complained the university kept too much of the law school’s revenue for itself.
Bogomolny and Gilman said the selection of the new dean is another step in a series of transitions for the law school.
“The fact that [Weich] has had such a distinguished career in public service and the private sector and the interesting legal issues of day is exciting for a law school like ours in a transformative period,” Gilman said. “Our stature has been rising nationwide. It is a perfect time to bring in someone like Ron Weich to help us think outside the box. He is not wedded to the way things are always done because he doesn’t know how things have been done.”
The school will open a new $107 million building in January 2013 and U.S. News & World Report ranked the school 113 in the country, a jump from its spot at 117 the year before and from 170 when Closius started.
“We are about to enter into a new, quite amazing law building and we just hired one of the most interesting candidates for dean I’ve seen in many years,” Bogomolny said. “I’m very excited about it. I think we will end up with an extremely interesting plan for the future of the school.”