Skip to main content

What’s next: Wendell Pritchett talks about his year as dean of Penn Law

June 29, 2015

After a year as interim dean of Penn Law, Wendell Pritchett is returning to the faculty as Presidential Professor of Law and Education.
After a year as interim dean of Penn Law, Wendell Pritchett is returning to the faculty as Presidential Professor of Law and Education.
Wendell Pritchett reflects on his year as interim dean of Penn Law, his return to Penn after serving as chancellor at Rutgers-Camden, and his future projects.

On July 1, Wendell Pritchett’s term as interim dean of Penn Law comes to a close, and Theodore Ruger will take over as the new dean of the Law School. Penn Law Communications talked to Dean Pritchett about serving as dean, returning to Penn Law, and his new projects.

Penn Law: What’s next for you? 

Wendell Pritchett: I am going to be a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. I am going to teach land use and local government and property in a couple years when I get it reorganized, and I am going to be a faculty member. I have a couple of projects about higher education reform and regulation, and I intend to be involved in the university and the community. 

PL: You were the interim dean this year, but it’s also your first year back at Penn Law after serving as chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden. Can you describe your experience returning to the university and to the Law School? 

WP: It’s been great. I have very warm memories from when I was away from Penn, and there was absolutely nothing that pushed me out of Penn — it was just the draw of a new opportunity. And there were lots of days when I wished I was back at Penn while I wasn’t here.

When I stepped down from being chancellor, I hoped I would get invited back. Being dean was a detour for the year, but it was a great detour, and I think we had a good and productive year. 

PL: Was there anything that surprised you about being dean this year? 

WP: Not really. I knew Penn pretty well, so there wasn’t anything that surprised me about the Law School. I had spent the last five years being an administrator. A lot of the issues that you deal with as an academic administrator — they’re pretty similar no matter what place you are. 

PL: What did you find was the best part of being the dean? 

WP: The best part of being in academia is dealing with students. That’s always the case in every job that I have had, and that was certainly the case here. We have amazing students who are doing terrific work now, and they’re going to do really exciting work when they graduate. Getting to reconnect with faculty and staff was also fun. Plus being back at Penn, which is just a great institution in general. Walking down Locust Walk — it’s just so beautiful. But the best part is being with students. 

PL: Can you talk a little bit your upcoming teaching? 

WP: I have historically taught classes around urban development — housing and economic development — and I am still interested in that, so that’s what I will teach. Over the last six years, I have developed more of an interest in education, not only because I was Chancellor of Rutgers-Camden, but because I was on the school board in the City of Philadelphia. I think there are a bunch of interesting questions there. 

I don’t say that I’d never go back to writing about land use, but right now, because of my recent experiences, I have some things in my head that I would like to work on about the regulation of higher education, which I think needs reform. How do we continue to expand higher education to serve more people and diverse groups of people? We have a lot of work to do in that area, so based on what I have experienced for the last six years, I have some things I’d like to write.

PL: Are there any moments during this academic year that particularly stood out to you?

WP: This year included discussions among the members of the Law School community about race relations and policing and about Ferguson and Baltimore. I think those were an interesting aspect of our year. We had a lot of conversations, and I think they will continue. They were unexpected discussions, but at the same time, I mean, I can’t say it was unexpected. We’ve been dealing with these issues as a country for a while. But the level of engagement of the Law School was special for the year. 

PL: Do you have any advice for Dean Ruger as he steps into the role of dean?

WP: The biggest piece of advice I’d have is enjoy the job. It is a fun job. It’s a lot of work, so if you start off with the fact that you are enjoying it, the hard work will be easier. Penn Law has great people and great students. It’s a great institution. And he knows that.