Washington People: Nancy Staudt

School of Law dean enjoys working across disciplines with colleagues around campus

Law school Dean Nancy Staudt in her office in Anheuser-Busch Hall on the Danforth Campus. (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL PHOTOS)

As students were returning to the Washington University in St. Louis campus last month, Nancy Staudt contemplated the end of her first year as dean of the School of Law and expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming year.

“I can’t believe how quickly the past year has gone,” she said. “It’s been wonderful having the opportunity to work closely with our amazing students and our incredibly talented faculty. I have also enjoyed collaborating with wonderful colleagues across the university and benefited from the tremendous support of our university leadership. I’m looking forward to this academic year and continuing our progress.”

Staudt, JD, PhD, the Howard & Caroline Cayne Professor of Law, likes the university so much she is on her second stint on the Danforth Campus, having previously served as professor of law from 2000-06.

“I really enjoy it here,” said Staudt, a nationally renowned scholar in tax, tax policy and empirical legal studies. “There’s a great atmosphere on campus that you don’t find at every university.”

Here, she discusses her return to the university, her role as dean and her vision for the School of Law.

Why did you decide to return to Washington University?

“I have always greatly admired Washington University and Washington University School of Law. When I saw the announcement that the school was looking for a new dean, I was really excited about the opportunity. I already knew that the school had great faculty, a great student body and an incredible staff, so the opportunity to be the dean was very appealing.

“Also, our university leadership, Chancellor (Mark S.) Wrighton and Provost (Holden) Thorp, are widely recognized as two of the truly great university leaders in the world. So the opportunity to work with them was exciting.”

What do you enjoy most about your role as dean of the School of Law?

“I enjoy the ‘people part’ of my job. I feel so lucky that my job description includes meeting with so many people in different stages of their careers. Not only are our students, staff and faculty amazing, but I have found that the School of Law has an incredible group of alumni.

“I try to meet with alumni every week of the year, and I am amazed at what our graduates have accomplished. They are federal judges, state supreme court justices, partners in law firms, CEOs, ambassadors, legislators, public interest lawyers, prosecutors, defenders … the list goes on. Obviously, our school is doing something right.”

You work with several university-wide initiatives. For example, you are involved with the university’s gun violence initiative and are a member of the Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee. What do you find rewarding about those efforts?

“Working on university-wide initiatives is one of the great components of my job. I truly love getting to work with the deans, faculty, staff and students from the schools across campus. It is a great way to learn how to do things differently and to identify best practices. It is also a great way to make friends. The Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee was put together by Provost Thorp to study diversity and inclusion on campus. I was lucky to work with 22 people across both campuses, and we worked throughout the entire summer to ensure that we could present the chancellor and the provost with a report on diversity and inclusion. It was a lot of work, but it was very satisfying to be able to collaborate with such a talented group of people.

“The law school is also participating in the university-wide gun violence initiative. Several of our faculty members are on the steering committee, and we are putting together a terrific event that will address law, policy and the 2nd Amendment.

“The chancellor and provost recently asked me to chair the search for the new dean of the Brown School. Dean Edward Lawlor has been an extraordinary leader, and he has helped to advance the school in so many ways. We have a great committee, and I am honored to serve on it.”

The School of Law has long been able to attract a diverse and talented applicant pool. What is it about the school that potential students find so appealing?

“The students recognize that we have world-class faculty who are committed to giving them the very best education. This commitment, in turn, leads to a satisfying educational experience and hopefully to wonderful jobs down the road. We are a school that cares very much about our culture. Once someone described our school as one where the community has ‘the humility to learn and the ambition to win.’ I love this about our school.”

Legal education and the legal profession are facing a number of challenges. How is the law school meeting those head on?

“Our School of Law, as well as law schools around the country, is facing hurdles associated with the economic downturn a few years ago and technology advances that have changed the way law is practiced. There is a silver lining, however. The hurdles have forced deans across the country to rethink long-common practices and plans. We have been forced to commit to what we do well, and try to jettison outdated practices.

“Our faculty is very much committed to ensuring that we give our students the best possible education, and, for this reason, we have all focused on how we can do better and be better in the face of a changing market.”

What is your vision for Washington University School of Law?

“First, our school has shown great progress in the last decade. We need to continue that momentum with the ultimate goal of becoming the best place in the world to study, teach and research the law.

“Second, I hope that the School of Law will continue to build with the other six schools on our two campuses so that we have deep and meaningful trans-disciplinary collaborations across the entire university.

“Third, I want to be sure that our world-class faculty members receive national and international recognition for their great work and scholarship.

“Fourth, I want to be sure that we succeed in our teaching mission to ensure that our students have a great experience on campus and get the very best jobs possible on the market.

“Finally, the School of Law will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017, and — please don’t laugh — since we reside in Anheuser-Busch Hall, I think it would be great to bring the Clydesdales on campus for a celebration!”