FALL 2000 ISSUE

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Michael A. Fitts was named Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School on March 6, 2000. He is the 18th Dean since George Sharswood was first named in 1852 when the Law Department was formed. Dean Fitts was educated at Harvard College (A.B. 1975) and Yale University School of Law (JD 1979). He sat down with the Penn Law Journal for an interview in which he outlined a vision for the future of Penn Law at the beginning of his tenure as Dean.

Why did you want to be dean?

It's simple: I love this school. I have spent fifteen years as a faculty member at Penn Law. During this period I have come to know the institution extremely well and understand its enormous potential. When making a decision to accept a position such as this, you have to ask three basic questions: do you care about the institution, do you understand and believe in its promise, and will you enjoy the process of helping to achieve that promise? In the case of Penn Law, I answer all three questions strongly in the affirmative. Taken as a whole, these motivations make the job irresistible.

Why does Penn Law elicit such an intense commitment?

Well, the reasons range from the practical, to the abstract, to the very personal.

On a practical level, I recognize Penn already provides as fine a legal education as you will find anywhere in the country. Size matters in legal education and Penn's intimate, but rigorous, environment is a major asset. We have a law faculty that cares about teaching, students, and scholarship. There is no better place to attend law school or to be a faculty member.

At the same time, the school has enormous potential for growth. I have spent much of that time over the last fifteen years in the process of helping to build this institution. As chair of the Appointments Committee, I worked to help bring in a core of first-rate faculty. As Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, I sought to develop our links to the other schools in the University in terms of curriculum and scholarly connections. As a result of all of these efforts, I appreciate the quality of what we already have as well as the tremendous potential for further success. The University of Pennsylvania houses as fine an array of law-related professional schools as any academic institution in the country. Our existing and potential relationships with these schools serve to distinguish us from our peers in terms of our ability to attract both students and faculty. As I have said many times in the last few months, based on these associations, I believe Penn Law School is well situated to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

Also, there is a personal attraction to the job of Dean. My father and grandfather served as academic administrators in the medical school and business school, respectively. (At the School of Medicine, Dean Fitts' father, William T. Fitts, Jr. was Chairman of the Department of Surgery, and at Wharton his grandfather, Joseph H. Willits, served as Dean - see sidebars). From a very early age growing up in West Philadelphia, I learned to care about this University and understand what it has to offer. Also from an early age, I came to appreciate the personal rewards of building an institution.