College of Law dean steps down

College of Law Dean Bruce Smith announced his resignation, effective June 1, on Thursday.

College of Law Dean Bruce Smith announced his resignation, effective June 1, on Thursday.

College of Law Dean Bruce Smith announced Thursday morning that he is stepping down as dean, a position he has held since February 2009. 

Smith’s resignation will be effective June 1, and he will return to the College of Law faculty as a tenured professor.

Smith took over as law dean in February 2009 just before the clout scandal — where University officials allowed certain “special consideration” students to gain admission to the University despite not being qualified for entry — hit the news. 

In 2011, also during Smith’s tenure, the College of Law suffered a second scandal, where it misreported LSAT and GPA scores to the Law School Admission Council to help make the University appear to be more exclusive to help attract prospective students. As a result of the scandal, then-assistant dean of admissions Paul Pless was forced to resign.

As a result of the admissions scandals, Smith said in an email that the college has instituted “a comprehensive, rigorous, and externally validated data compliance program.” He added that over the years, the college has continued to hire “outstanding faculty, recruit exceptionally talented cohorts of students, and secure transformative gifts.” 

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    When Smith took over as dean, the College of Law was ranked No. 23 in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of law schools. Today, the law school comes in at No. 40, bottoming out at No. 47 last year. 

    The college has named law professor John Colombo as new interim dean, pending approval from the University Board of Trustees at its May 14 meeting in Springfield. A national search will be conducted for a permanent replacement. 

    Colombo said he did not know when a permanent dean would be appointed but anticipates the appointment will occur before the 2015-16 school year begins.

    This is not the first time Colombo has temporarily stepped in as a dean for the College of Law. Colombo served as associate dean of the college from 1995-98, 1999-2000 and 2010-12. He served as acting dean in 1998 and 2001 and interim dean in 2002, according to a press release from the University.

    Colombo has been a faculty member for 26 years and primarily teaches tax law. He has written books regarding tax exemptions for charitable foundations and hospitals, according to the release.

    Smith is confident that Colombo will continue this strong positive momentum and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida agrees. 

    “I am grateful to Bruce for his leadership that saw the College of Law move forward through some challenging periods,” Adesida said in a press release.

    He noted that, thanks to Smith’s efforts, the college is now well-positioned for future success. 

    “Professor John Colombo has the skills, the experience and the wisdom to ensure that this trajectory for excellence continues without interruption,” Adesida said.

    Colombo said he did not see himself making any major changes in the college, emphasizing that he would like to carry on Smith’s legacy.

    “A lot of unique stuff is going on all due to the leadership of Dean Smith,” he said. “I want to keep up momentum and turn over this position to the next dean with tact.”

    Colombo mentioned that Smith has encouraged the college to put more emphasis on specific clinics highlighting themes such as criminal justice, community preservation, family advocacy and federal civil rights.

    “We want to expand (law clinics) as necessary to meet student demand,” he said.

    Under Smith’s appointment, the college has undertaken several different initiatives, including a program that allows third-year law students to take courses in Chicago in addition to three new award-winning clinics alongside a set of postgraduate public interest fellowships.

    Additionally, Smith said the college has been able to transform its approach to career planning and professional development, “yielding successive double-digit gains in full-time long-term legal employment” for the classes of 2012 and 2013. 

    “Dean Smith has completely revamped the way we do career services, and I want to continue to ramp up these services,” Colombo said.

    Following June 1, Smith will return to his tenured faculty position as Guy Raymond Jones Faculty Scholar. He will take a year of research leave during the 2014 to 2015 academic year to complete a “long-delayed book manuscript” and to spend more time with his family, including his two young children.

    Tyler and MaryCate can be reached at [email protected].