JoAnne Epps was recently named the new dean of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. Epps, a longtime professor at Temple who graduated from Yale University’s law school, is a stalwart academician in the areas of evidence, criminal procedure and trial advocacy. The trial advocacy program at Temple is ranked No. 2 in the nation.
When Dean Epps assumes her post on July 1, she will become the first female dean of Temple’s law school and one of the few African-American female deans at a major law school in the United States. There are four African-American women serving as deans of programs that are members of the American Association of Law Schools.
Epps will replace Dean Robert J. Reinstein, who is retiring in June after serving for 19 years — one of the longest tenures at an American law school.
Diverse recently caught up with Epps while she was in Washington, D.C., attending the American Bar Association Section of Litigation’s annual spring conference.
Diverse: Upon hearing that you’ve been named dean, what was your first reaction?
JE: I was thrilled and humbled. I was thrilled because I think that Temple’s law school is in an excellent place in its history, so the opportunity to lead it to even greater heights is exciting. I was thrilled because an appointment like this symbolized the fact that my colleagues and the administration had confidence in my leadership abilities. But I was also humbled because I didn’t grow up expecting to have anything this important happen in my life and I was very appreciative of the confidence that people had in me.
Diverse: You have held several positions during your career. You’ve been a law professor at Temple since 1985 and the associate dean of academic affairs at Temple Law since 1989. Before coming to Temple, you were an assistant U.S. attorney and a deputy city attorney. How would you compare this position to all the other positions you’ve held in your career?
JE: I’ve been really lucky in my career. I’ve had really terrific jobs that have all offered different challenges, different opportunities. They’ve contributed to my development. They’ve given me different personal strengths. I think this is in some regard the culmination of all the jobs that I’ve had. It’s going to require a range of talents. I have to be a manager, an administrator, an ambassador, a cheerleader and a teacher. I think that a lot of the things that I have done in the past have, I hope, prepared me to assume this position.
Diverse: What are your plans for Temple’s law school?
JE: I have a lot of ideas. But I am very mindful of the fact that a dean can’t accomplish things without the agreement and cooperation of the faculty and the students. I think that my greatest challenge is going to be to continue to attract outstanding students and faculty. Also, I would like to think about the following. I would like to think about increasing our international presence in a couple of ways. I’d like to increase internship opportunities for our students. I would like to think about establishing partnerships with other universities, so that both our students and faculty can take advantage of these opportunities. In particular, I think of South America and Africa as places where I would like to explore the possibilities of partnership.
And [I would like to explore] whether or not there are additional opportunities that we can offer our students in the third year. Right now the third year is very much like the second year. I can think of ways in which it could be different. We could try more collaborative learning or experiential learning. So I would like to encourage the faculty to think along those lines.
I think that since Temple is an urban institution, we should very much take advantage of our presence here in an urban setting. We should think of ways in which we can connect more regularly with our alumni both in terms of the programs we offer and support for the things that they are interested in. Maybe we can encourage people to do more legislative advocacy, thinking about preparing research papers on things that the legislature is grappling with. So there are lots of ideas. I don’t expect that they will all happen, but I do have things that I think will contribute to what I’d like to think is really characteristic of me.
Diverse: You will become the first female dean of Temple’s Law School and one of a few female African-American deans at major law schools in the United States. When you reflect on that, what comes to mind?
JE: I think about all that brought me here. All the people whose contributions and sacrifices both to me individually and to people like me have made this possible. I am ever, ever mindful. I am just sort of a connection to the past and a bridge to the future. I see myself as a vehicle of service, not of achievement or prominence. I am aware of my responsibilities as a role model, but I don’t think I am anything special. I just feel like I have opened one more door that I hope will make it easier for women and people of color and all people to come behind me.
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