a Q&A with Dean Andrews

Q&A with Dean Andrews

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After one year as President and Dean, Penelope (Penny) Andrews reflects on the state of the school in a conversation with the AlbanyLaw magazine’s editor.

This has been a difficult year for legal education, particularly for a law school dean.

While this was my first year as president, I have to assume every year is both tough and rewarding. Some veterans in legal education call these times unprecedented while others see this as routinely cyclical. Regardless of one’s historical context or viewpoint, whether optimistic or cynical, I am very focused on our mission: educating and training students to be outstanding legal professionals and future leaders.

With all the challenges, can you point to one priority, a central theme, or are there too many moving targets still?

Students. Absolutely students at the very top of the list. All decisions are guided by their impact on students. Students first. They invest a lot in time and resources to attend law school. We owe it to them to direct all our energies at their professional development and success. Our emphasis is on teaching, on mentoring students and supporting them in their chosen paths in law, business, government or public interest work.

What is your message to students about the job market? Are you doing things differently?

I know that the students who take advantage of all that we offer will be successful. It is our job to pave the path for them to produce their own results.

We have an impressive Career Center to serve the students. It behooves every student to take advantage of the services and support provided by the Career Center. Some students visit the Center literally every week, starting in their first year. These students—the self-starters—are often the ones who have a lead in obtaining summer placements. They also tend to lead in obtaining summer paid placements. Similarly, students who have at least one clinical experience, and/or a second experience at a structured field placement seem to thrive in significant ways. Most importantly, they stay connected to those who mentor them during these clinical experiences or externships. In addition, students who attend alumni events, network with alumni and trustees, visit with faculty in their offices—they tend to have a leg-up. They tend to enter their final semester of law school with five or six employers on their resumes and with multiple connections that comprise a professional network. Ideally, this is where most of our students should be before graduating. This is the power of our legacy, the alumni network, and the power of our location in the capital of New York State. 

Students who learn how to create relationships on their own not only feel and act like professionals in training, they are full professionals when they walk across the Commencement stage. This comes across during job interviews and when they commence their first jobs.

I want to be clear about something. While I believe that students come first, I also believe that law school is not an extension of college, but rather the beginning of their professional careers. The professional development and career success of students is a shared venture between the administration, faculty and students. Students therefore need to take responsibility for their learning and professional development. Just as the professors have expectations of students, students should also have expectations of the administration and faculty. We will support them. We are all in this together. We are here for them, and I let students know that as often as I can.

With a shrinking class and less revenue, what happens to the faculty and staff?

All law schools are facing the conundrum of shrinking classes and the need to shrink faculty. This year our faculty will decrease in size due to the relocation and retirement of a few. With another shrinking pool of applicants in the next few years, we will continue to have smaller classes. We are fortunate that currently our student-faculty ratio—at 13 to 1—is well below the national average. While we are proud of this, it is an expensive student-faculty ratio to maintain. Our adjunct faculty are practitioners who bring practical lessons to the classroom and are very valuable members of the Albany Law School community—but we have had to shrink the number of adjunct faculty as well. Our full-time faculty have increasingly been integrating their lessons in the same way that adjunct faculty traditionally do—simulating real cases and real models—and they will begin to teach many of the courses adjunct faculty have taught.

Working with the staff has been one of the pleasures of my first year here. Albany Law is fortunate to have staff with an admirable level of skills and commitment to the school, many with years of experience in higher education. Most of our staff are in contact with numerous students in some way every day. Positive staff-student relationships are an important part of the student experience here. We currently operate with a very lean staff for the size of our school, and we are operating with very lean budgets. The staff understands the value of customer service.

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New leadership often brings change to a campus culture. Can you point to a significant change you have brought to the campus?

One significant cultural change is that all faculty have to be engaged with the entire enterprise of the law school. Law schools, like the legal profession as a whole, are facing unprecedented challenges, providing all kinds of opportunities for innovation in teaching, research and scholarship, engagement with those who employ our graduates and other constituents who are connected to Albany Law School. The days of the disengaged Ivory Tower law professor are over. These changing times demand new approaches and require new responsibilities. The job market is changing in frightening and exciting ways, providing greater opportunities for us to think about what we teach, why we teach what we do, how we teach, and more. Today, our faculty are supporting their students way beyond the classroom. They are playing a more active role in guiding students through their chosen career paths, helping students select classes, identifying the internships relevant to students’ interests, and generally becoming more involved in the evolution of students to professionals. This year many faculty supported the Admissions Office to recruit prospective students by attending Open House events, and making phone calls to some of the applicants who indicated an interest in talking to faculty. In addition, some of our faculty continue to assist students in locating jobs and internships through their network of professional contacts.

Will their scholarship work remain important?

Reflecting on law and producing research and scholarship is part of the duties of a law professor. Law schools play a critical role in enriching the body of legal scholarship; indeed it is the legal academy’s responsibility to contribute to the continued development of law through scholarship. The research of our faculty have and continue to advance legal ideas in real ways, often shaping law around new issues. From an evaluation of the appointment of judges, to the examination of the regulation of food and banks, to health and reproductive choices, to tax and consumer policy, and New York practice, to the law of slavery and issues facing the environment, the work of Albany Law professors have been thoughtful and compelling. Courts at both the state and federal level regularly cite the work of Albany Law professors, and they are regularly called upon to participate in conferences and workshops, provide continuing legal education to lawyers and other legal professionals.

Many of our faculty have built national and international reputations in specific areas of the law. This results in visible speaking opportunities, often expanding Albany Law’s reputation. This is crucial work—a vital part of the school’s mission. I recently appointed Professor Alicia Ouellette as the new Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Professional Development to provide support for faculty to continue their research and scholarship, and to enhance their teaching and service responsibilities.

But we need to keep our mission in mind when considering the universe of our activities. The reputation of Albany Law has been historically centered on great teaching and great connection to the legal profession, including the judiciary. As a small, independent school in the state capital, we have and continue to do certain things great. Teaching is one of those things. We know how to teach students to be superb lawyers, legal professionals, and leaders. We have been doing that for 162 years, and that must continue.

Characterize the type of leadership you bring to the campus.

Diligence, candor, resilience, and transparency are important values to me. I want the staff, faculty and students to understand the importance of these values, and why we make certain choices that may affect any or all of us. I meet with and communicate frequently with faculty and students. I try to meet with the entire staff in groups and I regularly meet staff individually.

I particularly enjoy my interaction with the students. For example, I invited the first-year students to my apartment for wine and cheese, and then we took a guided tour of the city.

A culture of candor and transparency means accessibility and engagement. This also means honest conversations, which are not always comfortable. Diligence and resilience means having an enthusiastic and rigorous approach to your work, of having high expectations and a sense of accountability to all the constituents of Albany Law.

How does Albany Law’s student body compare to your previous law school at CUNY (City University of New York), one of the most diverse law schools in the country?

I think it is important that the student population at Albany Law reflect the diversity of New York State and indeed the United States. This is a challenging endeavor, especially in the face of a shrinking pool of minority applicants. But it is important and it makes us stronger and keeps us relevant and significant in legal education. As courts across the state and country increase efforts to diversify their clerks, and as law firms and other employers look for ways to continue to diversify their pool of associates and employees, Albany Law needs to be in a strong position to provide the candidates. In order to compete in this more diverse world, our students have to be equipped with an appreciation and understanding of the skills needed to operate within a range of divergent and conflicting viewpoints and cultural attitudes. Flexibility of thought, a willingness to expand one’s intellectual horizons, a fundamental understanding and tolerance of differences—these attributes will stand our students in good stead. I will continue to strive hard to make Albany Law a strong and diverse community of students. That is our contribution to the education of the next generation of legal professionals.

A large part of a Dean’s job is raising funds through alumni giving. How is that going?

First, I have a dedicated and wonderful Board of Trustees, all alumni who are utterly dedicated to the mission of Albany Law. Second, I have met alumni all over the state and all over the country. From Rochester, to Utica, to Binghamton and to New York City; from Boston to Washington, D.C., I so enjoy meeting our large group of supportive and wonderful alumni. Most recently I spent a week in Florida meeting our graduates down there. I love that part of the job. I’ll ask anyone for money because that money is for the benefit of students. Law school is expensive and it is our responsibility to ensure that those who want to attend law school and who will be successful have the opportunity to do so. I will do whatever I can to create such possibilities and I will shamelessly ask alumni of Albany Law and others to help me in this endeavor. As I said, I have met countless alumni, excited about what is happening here, eager to help in a variety of ways. The connection of the alumni to the law school is a very attractive feature of this job—and I hope that it continues and grows.

What do you see for Albany Law School in the long term?

This is my vision for Albany Law:

  • To recruit a strong, talented and diverse pool of applicants who will succeed in law school.
  • To strengthen our curriculum and program of education to ensure that our graduates are fully equipped to meet the challenges of law in the 21st century, challenges wrought by market forces, technology, globalization, and professional ethics.
  • To create the educational and professional conditions for our students to develop an entrepreneurial sense of their careers.
  • To be a meaningful and engaged member of the Capital Region, New York State and beyond in the law, policy, business, government, non-profit, and public interest communities.

We have a great faculty at Albany Law School. We have a great staff. To the lucky students who choose to attend Albany Law, they are given tremendous opportunity to begin a fulfilling, lifelong career. I know that the students who take advantage of all that we offer will be successful. It is our job to pave the path for them to produce their own results. This year they have inspired me to do more for them in the next and following years.