Ronald Weich plans to push practical learning opportunities — like internships and clinics — and closer ties to Washington as the new dean at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Weich, who comes to the school off a longtime career in Washington politics, hosted a town hall with faculty and students at the law school last Tuesday.
“I’m trying to use all the relationships I have to raise the University of Baltimore’s profile in Washington,” Weich said. “People are starting to look at students for summer positions next year and internships.”
Weich said he also plans to focus on lowering student debt and on marketing the school.
“It’s my duty to be the face of this school, and we want them to know about UB,” Weich said.
Tyler Morrison, a second-year student and class representative for the university’s Student Bar Association, said he liked Weich’s priorities and hoped the new dean could achieve them.
“He said good things for the school,” Morrison said. “I am just curious as to how things will work out when the rubber hits the road.”
Weich struck a familiar and candid tone with students during the open forum, talking first about his background and then his plans for the school. Students then asked him questions and he asked them questions.
“This law school is a community,” Weich told students. “I want us all to feel a sense of responsibility and a sense of support so you all can help me take the law school to the next level.”
Students asked about the job market, internship opportunities and law school rankings.
Weich comes to the university at a time when it is rising in law school rankings. U.S. News & World Report ranked the school 113 in the country, up from 117 the previous year and from 170 in 2007, when Weich’s predecessor became dean.
While he hopes to improve the law school’s reputation across the country, Weich said, he is not going to be a slave to the numbers.
“I want to be aware of rankings, but I don’t want to be obsessed with them, and I don’t think you all should be either,” Weich told students.
Second-year Angelica Bailey, the treasurer of the Student Bar Association, said she agreed with Weich’s view on rankings.
“I like the idea of balance,” Bailey said. “He wants to get better not for the rankings but for ourselves.”
Chosen from five finalists earlier this year, Weich started as dean July 2. He is the successor to Phillip J. Closius, who stepped down in July 2011 after accusing the university of keeping too much of the law school’s revenue for itself. The university has since pledged to increase the law school’s budget by $5 million over the next five years.
Closius returned to campus this fall as a tenured professor after taking one year of administrative leave.
Bailey said she came to the law school because she liked Closius. She also pointed out that her law school class has had three deans so far — Closius, Interim Dean F. Michael Higginbotham and Weich.
“It’s going to be nice to get past everything that happened last year,” Bailey said.
Second-year Neill Thupari, the American Bar Association representative for the university’s Student Bar Association, said while he supports the new dean, he was close with the previous dean and hopes Weich also will work toward building the strong relationships Closius had.
“He was really there with students,” Thupari said. “He was there every step of the way. Dean Weich seems to be on the ground and seems to be coinciding with those things.”
Weich said he does not want to change anything major at the law school yet, but sees aspects that could be improved. He wants to provide more chances for faculty to meet and more opportunities for students to be heard. He also said he wants to strengthen the law school’s relationship to the university as a whole.
“I pride myself on being someone who can find common ground and work with different stakeholders,” Weich said.
Weich said he will also be concentrating on fundraising and raising the school’s profile nationwide. Weich told students this would be expedited by the completion of the new law school building next spring, which he said will be a “calling card” for the school.
Third-year student Nicholas Young said he was happy to hear Weich talk about marketing at the town hall.
“I hoped this school would not be satisfied with mediocrity,” Young said. “I think with the opportunity of the new building, it is now or never to make a jump for the law school.”
Since starting, Weich said he has tried to meet with every member of the faculty. He said he’s met with about 40 so far.
“I’ve had lunch and breakfast and coffee and meetings,” Weich said. “I really feel I want to have a relationship with all of the faculty.”
He said he also plans to sit in on classes this semester.
“I will enjoy a chance to sit in class and soak it up knowing I don’t have to take a final exam,” Weich said.
First-year Kristen Tessmer attended the town hall meeting to learn more about Weich’s Washington ties since she is interested in working in government.
“I want to see where he came from so if I need resources or someone to talk to, I will be informed,” Tessmer said.
Before coming to UB Law, Weich was assistant attorney general for legislative affairs in the U.S. Justice Department. He was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009.
Before that, Weich served as chief counsel for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. He also practiced in the Washington office of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP and, earlier, worked for seven years for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
“There were enormous time pressures in the job I had in Washington,” Weich said. “I had to make decisions too quickly in the past. Here, there is more deliberation and a premium on consulting.”
Weich said he is focused on long-term planning at the law school, where he was concentrated more on day-to-day actions in the political world.
“It’s all about looking over the horizon and not just until the next day,” Weich said.