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Farewell to Dean Fitts quote & comments

June 23, 2014

Michael A. Fitts, dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, has been named president of Tulane University. He will assume the post on July 1.

Below, members of the Penn Law community share their farewell messages to Dean Michael A. Fitts. Share your own in the comments!

David Abrams, Professor of Law, Business Economics, and Public Policy

If there is an activity that could possibly benefit the Law School, Mike will do it, even if it’s far from his wheelhouse. I have witnessed numerous examples of this, ranging from playing dodgeball with students in the courtyard to eating local delicacies in Bangalore. It is this kind of dedication that has led to such flourishing of the law school under Mike’s tenure as dean.

Anita L. Allen, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy

Mike has guided the transformation of Penn’s law campus from faded to fabulous, from functioning to flourishing. These changes along with the new emphases of interdisciplinary scholarship, cross-disciplinary education and skills training have made Penn one of the best places to study law in the world. 

Stephanos Bibas, Professor of Law & Criminology; Director, Supreme Court Clinic

Mike’s energy and enthusiasm for Penn and Penn Law infused everything we do here.  From a growing faculty to a spanking new building in the middle of the great recession to the best job placement numbers in the country, Penn Law took off like a rocket under Mike’s tenure. We will miss you, Mike!

William Wilson Bratton, Deputy Dean & Nicholas F. Gallicchio professor of law; Co-Director, Institute for Law and Economics 

Complete devotion to the enterprise. Mike Fitts cares deeply about Penn Law and has worked tirelessly to make it a better, stronger institution. His sense of commitment has inspired everybody in the Penn Law community. 

Stephen Burbank, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice

The question precipitated a mental fracas, as any number of thoughts competed to be first in line, from trust to devotion to focus. In the end – or rather at the beginning – are Mike’s appetite for and skill at strategic thinking. In area after area of the Law School’s operations, whether it was interdisciplinary teaching and research or jobs for our students, Mike’s keen intelligence,institutional savvy and perseverance enabled him (and us) to break down barriers and to be leaders in legal education.

Safra Catz W’83, L’86 President & CEO, Oracle

Mike has been an incredibly creative dean. His strategic vision and execution coming together with being a truly wonderful person has been great for Penn Law. I will personally miss him as dean immensely.

William J. Draper, Reference Librarian, Biddle Law Library

Mike Fitts’s emphasis on cross-disciplinary research was not only groundbreaking in and of itself, his approach and support enabled others to make groundbreaking contributions with new, broader directions in their research. Ultimately, with the benefit of hindsight, we are likely to see that Mike has been a world-changer here at Penn Law.

Jill E. Fisch, Perry Golkin Professor of Law; Co-Director, Institute for Law and Economics

The first thing that comes to mind for me is subtle leadership. Mike is the kind of dean who gets a tremendous amount done, but quietly through negotiation rather than a public show of force. I think his success comes, in part, from persuading people of the logic of his objectives rather than trying to impose his will.

Stephen Frank, Former Senior Writer

Forward motion. From the day I arrived, there has always been something new on the horizon.

Heather Frattone W’94, L’98, Assistant Dean for Professional Engagement

As dean, Mike Fitts cultivated an environment of collaboration, innovation and growth at Penn Law during a period of incredible volatility in the legal marketplace. It has been a privilege to work with such a transformative leader, especially as a graduate of this amazing law school.

Doug Frenkel W’68, L’72, Morris Shuster Practice Professor of Law

When I think of Mike’s tenure as Dean, I think of the word growth—growth of the Law School programmatically at every level, in its resources, physical plant, messaging and many other areas of institutional importance. But mostly I think about Mike’s growth in the job during the last 15 years. I always knew he was a hard worker and a mensch, the kind of person who would enjoy respect and even affection for those personal qualities.   But who knew that this unpolished professor with a messy office would become the strategist, fundraiser, communicator, and executive that Mike is today?     

Stephen M. Goodman W’62, L’65, Partner, Morgan Lewis

You have not only made a transformative difference at Penn Law, the University and the legal community, you have made a positive personal difference in the lives of so many. I count myself among those who have been marked by your deft and indelible touch—always effectively delivered and with enormous grace and caring.

Osagie Imasogie GL’85, Founder & Senior Managing Partner, Phoenix IP Ventures

When I think of Mike Fitts I immediately think of his great capacity to be an aggressive listener. Mike welcomes input from a range of people and views on issues that are important to the Law School and the well-being of its students, faculty and administration. He has a unique facility to process these diverse views and synthesize them into one coherent, well thought-out and articulated position at the end of the evaluation process. Mike’s display of this singular capability reminds me of my Mother’s People, the Yoruba’s, proverb that “we have two ears and one mouth so we should listen twice as much as we talk”. In that regard, Mike is a great honorary Yoruba!!

In addition, when I think of Mike I also think of the word and concept “interdisciplinary”. During his tenure at Penn Law, Mike championed the evolution of the Law School’s curriculum and faculty into a unique view of the study and practice of law in the 21st century. This perspective espouses the view that for law to remain relevant it must take into consideration and utilize skills and insights from multiple disciplines. This approach has made Penn Law the envy of legal education in the U.S. and, indeed the world. It has made our students better prepared to deal with and excel in the real world. It has made our students more desirable for employers in a range of fields from the practice of law to financial institutions to government to the judicial system. None of these achievements could have been possible without Mike’s strong leadership and commitment to the vision of the interdisciplinary study of law.

Elise Kraemer L’93, Associate Director, Graduate Programs

Kind and low-key with exceptional results.

Howard Lesnick, Jefferson B. Fordham Professor of Law

Acknowledging all of the tangible benefits of Mike’s tenure as dean, to me what enduringly stands out is the unfailingly humane attention he has given every person who works here.

Paul Levy L’72, Senior Managing Director and Founding Partner, JLL Partners

Mike had a strategic vision for how the law, and Penn Law in particular, can benefit from interdisciplinary studies across all fields, and the University of Pennsylvania was the ideal place to pursue that vision.  Mike articulated that vision succinctly and clearly, garnered the support of key constituents in pursuing it, and executed flawlessly. He is a true leader. As important, he lead with a gentle hand, always focused on building a team, involving students, faculty, alumni and other deans, and never wavering in his mission. Mike embodies all the traits of a modest, humble and incredibly effective leader. We will miss him dearly.

Robert Marchman L’83, executive vice president of the legal section, FINRA

I am deeply indebted to Dean Michael Fitts – a man I deeply respect and admire – for numerous reasons as he represents a rare breed of those who walk among us: a decent human being who uses his extraordinary intellectual gifts for the betterment of society rather than his own personal gain. I am particularly grateful to Dean Fitts for his taking the time out of his busy schedule to reach out and spend time with me to make me feel that I was a welcomed member of the Penn Law family. Without any doubt, I would not feel the pride and passion I currently feel for my alma mater if he had not made such an effort. I am also extremely appreciative of Dean Fitts’ diligent and sincere efforts and commitment to ensure that all aspects of the Law School truly embrace the importance of a diverse and inclusive culture, all the while leading the Law School to be recognized as one of the top institutions for legal training in the nation. He has opened the doors of opportunity for many – Dean Fitts is a true champion among influential law school educators.

Rachel Mayover, Associate Director, Gittis Center for Clinical Legal Studies

The first word that comes to my mind when I think about Mike’s tenure as dean of Penn Law School is transformative! He is an amazing leader who has the unique ability to dream big and actually bring his visionary ideas to fruition. All of the new interdisciplinary and joint degree programs, the growth of our faculty and staff, the growth of our clinical and international programs, the amazing new state of the art facilities and his ability to build a cohesive community here are just a few ways that Mike has made his mark on Penn Law!

Charles W. Mooney, Jr., Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Professor of Law

I think of something that helped to make Mike’s tenure as dean so successful. It was the weeks before the announcement of his selection in the spring of 2000. I was interim dean (and anxious to get back to my “real” job). Mike let me know that the provost had asked Mike to accept the appointment. BUT Mike continued to negotiate with the provost for weeks. And the accommodations they eventually reached served to benefit Penn Law enormously.

Martez Moore L’98, Executive Vice President, Digital Media & Head of Strategy & Business Development, BET Networks

Mike is a visionary.  As dean, he possessed the unique gift for understanding, articulating, and sharing how the interdisciplinary education of Penn Law (and the broader University) stands as the essence for what distinguishes our legal education from all others.  In many ways, Mike is the embodiment of an interdisciplinary approach – multi-skilled, multi-faceted, and multi-dimensional.   

Matthew Parker L’00, GRD’12, Assistant Dean, Graduate Programs

I think his tenure is defined by a combination of thoughtful cultivation of available opportunities coupled with a fearlessness in exploring new directions. I am proud to be an alumnus of Penn Law and have found working in this environment as a staff member to be rewarding and invigorating, as Mike has instilled a mission in the staff to make this place nothing less than the best law school on the planet.

Paul H. Robinson, Colin S. Diver Professor of Law

Dean Fitts has obviously done an enormous amount in building up the Law School, both literally and figuratively. But for many of us, his major contribution is one hidden from public view:  improving and expanding our scholarly lives in the substantive and moral support that he and the institution provide. I have taught at several other top law schools and, yet, much of my scholarly work of the past decade here at Penn Law would not be possible elsewhere. To the extent that my work has value to our larger society, it is a contribution made possible by Mike Fitts.

Edward Rock L’83, Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law

Mike has always put the good of the Law School first, ahead of personal advancement or even personal life. Tireless in thinking about how to make the Law School better, tireless in gathering resources to do so, and tireless in guarding all of us, faculty, staff and students alike, against the myriad challenges facing legal education, Mike leaves the Law School a far, far better place. His deanship was transformational.

Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law

I think that Mike had a great ability to take the best things about Penn Law and make them even better. Some deans come in with transformative visions that don’t relate much to what the institution already is. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t. Mike really understood what the school was when he took over—he loved the school as it was—and he made it a better version of itself.

James J. Sandman L’76, President, Legal Services Corporation

Mike’s tenure as dean is a lesson in leadership at its highest level. He was able to conceive, articulate, and execute a vision for the law school that was both ambitious and distinctive. And, in his own quiet way, Mike has cultivated a remarkable culture of community – a culture that combines a shared commitment to excellence with collegiality and diversity and integrity and mutual respect. It is a culture that, not coincidentally, reflects the strength of Mike’s personal character. 

Robert C. Sheehan L’69, Of Counsel, Skadden, Arps

The school found a dean who matched its culture – open, friendly, curious, warm, and striving for excellence. Mike, from the start, was comfortable in his own skin – a “good guy” you wanted to intersect with.

Reed Shuldiner, Alvin L. Snowiss Professor of Law; Co-Director, Center for Tax Law & Policy

“Is this how you make a great law school?”

Occasionally, he changes the question and asks: “Is this how you make a great university?” 

But other than that, it is always the same.

Jessica Simon, Associate Director of Legal Practice Skills; Director of Academic Support; Senior Lecturer

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Mike’s tenure is: the faculty. If Mike had not been intent on building a larger faculty, I likely would not have been hired. Mike knew that Penn could be at the forefront of skills training, and as a result, began hiring new faculty to teach legal writing six years ago. And even though the entire faculty has increased in size, it still remains a cooperative and collegial group, and I believe that’s due to Dean Fitts.

Shanin Specter L’84, Principal, Kline & Specter, P.C.

When Roget’s Thesaurus comes out with a new edition, the word “transformative” should have Mike Fitts’s name next to it. Today’s Penn Law School bears little resemblance to what it was when Mike took over.

Mike Fitts’s interaction with me is typical of what he’s done for Penn. When Mike assumed the deanship, he recruited me to teach trial advocacy. Early on, I complained that trial advocacy needed to be taught in a courtroom. So when the new building was on the drawing board, Mike came to Tom Kline and me, reminded us of my complaint and gently requested payment in full for a courtroom. What choice did we have but to oblige!

Today, the Kline & Specter Courtroom is a centerpiece of the Law School. It is the operating theatre for trial advocacy and practice and appellate instruction and argument. It is a first class facility in every respect and that’s the standard to which Mike has held himself and those around him.

Mike Fitts will go down in history as one of the greatest deans to grace any educational institution. And while it’s true that Mike Fitts will be missed, there will be no missing his indelible, broad and deep contributions to the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Steven Temares L’83, Chief Executive Officer, Bed Bath & Beyond

On a personal note, Mike had (and I am sure still does) tremendous pride in Penn, and its place in making life better for the individual and society. Mike’s enthusiasm, vision and passion for the school was infectious. He is a warm and caring individual that goes about his life with a wonderful personal touch.  

Laura Tepper, Director, Annual Giving

What strikes me most about Mike’s tenure here is how everything he did, every relationship he built, every project he embarked upon was reflective of a true and honest love for Penn Law. He very obviously considered this place to be his home and he showed that in how he treated faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Every person was important and part of his vision for the Law School. He always wanted us all to share in the successes. Tulane is very lucky to be gaining someone who puts so much of himself into what he does.

Lynn Toler L’84, Judge, Divorce Court television series


I hadn’t been back to University of Pennsylvania Law School since I fled the premises in 1984. I came back in 2012 to a place I barely recognized.

As a visionary, Mike transformed Penn Law from a dated structure to a large multileveled building filled with light. Affable, he has effectively embraced alumnae. More importantly, he made sure the Law School changed with the times. It is a better place and Mike’s imprint is all over it.

Michael Wachter, William B. & Mary Barb Johnson Professor of Law & Economics; Co-Director, Institute for Law & Economics

Mike Fitts has been a transformative dean for Penn Law. He will be remembered in the class of founders and the very best leaders in Penn Law’s long and illustrious history. Those of us who have been at Penn Law during his tenure owe him enormous gratitude for his many successes on behalf of the School. For Mike his every effort has been about Penn Law. 

Grace Wadell, Associate Director, Legal Education Programs

When I came in for my first interview, during the construction, I became lost. This nice man came up to me and helped me find my way. I thought, “I bet that was the dean!” and sure enough it was. It made me realize this had to be a nice place to work if even the dean would take the time to help me find my way.