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Q&A: Renée McDonald Hutchins takes over as Maryland Carey Law’s new dean

The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law has a new dean for the first time in eight years, and she’s a familiar face at the institution.

Renée McDonald Hutchins, a former member of the faculty at Carey Law, has returned to lead Maryland’s top law school. Her first day as dean was Monday.

Hutchins comes back to Carey Law after three years as dean of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, where she helped guide students through the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to fulfill the school’s mission of making legal education more accessible.

Hutchins said she plans to continue Carey Law’s tradition of community oriented programs and clinical work, both of which were a highlight under her predecessor, Donald B. Tobin, who stepped down as dean this year to return to teaching full time.

Hutchins, a leading scholar of 4th Amendment rights and criminal procedure, said she sees returning to Carey Law as “coming home.”

Related: UMB finds ‘ideal choice’ to lead Carey School of Law

“I cannot overstate how excited I am to be returning to one of the most remarkable law schools in the country,” she said, “and to be returning to a community of scholars and thought leaders and practitioners that really set the bar. They are really the gold standard.”

Her interview with The Daily Record has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q: Why did you want to return to Maryland Carey Law? How does it feel to be coming back?

Renée McDonald Hutchins is the new University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law School of Law dean. (Submitted photo)

Renée McDonald Hutchins is the new University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law School of Law dean. (Submitted photo)

It feels amazing. I don’t mean this in a saccharine way, but it really does feel like coming home. I was at the law school for 14 years. It’s the place where I became an academic. It’s the place where my kids grew up running around in the halls.

There are so many incredibly talented, lovely human beings working in that building. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues there, and I’m really looking forward to coming back in a different capacity, to lead this time. …

When I first started working there, I used to say it was like Disneyland because it was the happiest place on Earth. People were really happy to come to work with their colleagues. There was this shared mission of doing good work with the law, which I thought was so important. I’m just really looking forward to coming back to that.

Q: Tell me about your time at UDC Law.

I loved my time at UDC. I feel like we have done incredible work there. It is a very unique institution. It’s one of six HBCU (law schools) in the country. It is the only public law school in the District. So it sits in this really unique space. It was also founded with an access mission and with a public service mission. It’s just this really unique gem in legal education.

When I went, the school was facing a significant number of challenges, and so I left Maryland not because I was unhappy at Maryland, but because I felt like I could do good work at UDC and felt like it was an institution that was worth leaning into. The students there deserved the time and talents of people who cared about about social justice and access.

Related: Tobin looks back at 8 years of change at Maryland Carey Law

Some people would say I picked the absolute worst time to decide to become a dean. A year after I arrived there we hit the pandemic, and two summers after I arrived there, we had the whole George Floyd national reckoning with race. So there was a lot going on during my time there. But I think in a lot of ways that made it this fertile teaching ground for me to really lean into active leadership at a time of crisis. It really was learning on your feet. …

I used to say all the time that the students at UDC were my North Star. They were the reason that I got up early and went to bed late and worked weekends, because I wanted so much for them to succeed. They had invested so much in their success and their families had invested so much in their success. I felt like it was my job to do everything I could to help them find that success. We made incredible progress.

Q: How does that transfer over into your goals for your time at Carey Law?

One of the things that I loved about Maryland when I was there, and that I continue to love about Maryland, was this notion that the law could be a force for good. That the law had the capacity to make ordinary people do extraordinary things.

It was my sense that everybody on the faculty at Maryland, when I was there, believed that. That we all believed that we had sort of a privileged position in the world, as a result of our degrees, that foisted upon us some obligation to do good with that privilege. I think that UDC in a lot of ways was very much the same.

One of the things that I am looking forward to translating over is, if we could do the kind of good work we did at UDC with relatively limited resources, much smaller faculty, much smaller budget, much smaller student body, what amazing work can we do with people who have the same justice-minded view of the world with a larger faculty and more students and more resources?

That’s the part about it that’s very exciting to me: the great work that we’re going to be able to do with everybody leaning in. I also am really looking forward to building back community. Like all institutions — I don’t think Maryland is unique in this regard — the pandemic frayed some of the social fabric of communities.

To me, community is very necessary. It is literally the foundational building block of democracy. If we understand community in that way, then it becomes incumbent upon all of us to ensure that the communities that we are a part of are intact, functioning, rational communities that we can then build out and build out so that democracy works. Part of the reason that we are seeing the fraying of American democracy is because we have seen the fraying of American community.

Law schools actually sit at the intersection of American society and the American rule of law. I think that we have a particular obligation to ensure that we are (demonstrating) what it looks like to agree to disagree, agreeably, and to have a community where people lean into ideas, and where we don’t belittle facts or intellectual analysis.

Then we use our privilege and we use our talents and we use our time to ensure that the community that we are a part of — we’re not just in Baltimore, we are of Baltimore — is strong. And we do all we can to ensure that that community is not fraying and is not suffering from social injustice.

Related: Editorial Advisory Board: At Carey Law, a job well done