Law School dean to step down, return to faculty

Sept. 8, 2010

by Stacy Forster

University of Wisconsin Law School Dean Kenneth B. Davis Jr. said today (Sept. 8) he will step down in September 2011 and return to the faculty.

Davis came to the Law School in 1978 and has been dean of the school since December 1997, making him the school's second longest-serving dean in its 142-year history.

"We have been fortunate to have had someone with Ken's dedication, experience and talent guiding our Law School for so many years," says UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin. "He has been innovative in taking the Law School in new directions, and we will miss his leadership."

During his tenure as dean, Davis has steadily worked to raise the Law School's stature and visibility. Its national ranking has climbed along with its ability to attract top students from across the state and nation.

Davis attributes these accomplishments in part to the school's national reputation as a leader in diversity and its focus on "law in action."

Davis has also led an initiative called "Preeminent and Public," which encouraged those at the Law School to consider ways to advance its national stature and influence while at the same time being true to its mission as Wisconsin's only public law school.

That initiative has led to enhanced standards for faculty accountability and productivity, a more merit-based compensation system and expanded student learning opportunities in areas such as business law and professional skills.

Davis pointed to that initiative, and the need for the dean to be involved in long-range planning for the school, as a reason he's stepping down as dean.

"Throughout the last two and a half years, I have remained mindful that the consequences of whatever we do now will fall mainly on those younger than I am," Davis says, adding that the median start date for faculty is now 1999 — two years after he became dean. "To assure that the next rounds of dialogue and decision about the Law School's direction have the kind of building-wide support essential for their long-term success, I think it is better if I remove myself from the process."

Davis thanked the faculty and staff at the Law School for their support during his time as dean.

"When I considered becoming a candidate for this job, I had considerable doubt whether I could do it for five years, much less 14," he says. "The fact that I have been able to do so is due principally to the good will and collegiality of the people of the UW Law School."

Following a one-year sabbatical, Davis intends to return to the teaching faculty. His specialties are corporate and securities law, and he has received both the university's and the Law School's Distinguished Teaching Awards.