New Pitt Law dean brings fiery enthusiasm to post

By Gwenn Barney

William M. Carter Jr., the newly appointed dean of Pitt’s School of Law, describes himself as… William M. Carter Jr., the newly appointed dean of Pitt’s School of Law, describes himself as a heat-seeking missile, and he’s bringing his brand of fire to Pitt.

“I am seldom accused of being too laid-back,” Carter, 39, said. “I’m not someone who’s hotheaded, but I’m fairly intense about my job. I really believe in developing a plan for success. And once we develop that plan, we need to collectively focus on implementing it.”

Carter, the first black dean in the history of Pitt’s School of Law, will assume his new post on July 1. He inherits the mantle from Mary Crossley, who is stepping down after eight years in the position. Crossley will continue to teach as a professor at the law school.

Carter specializes in the areas of constitutional law, political and civil rights, civil procedure and litigation. He is especially well-known for his work dealing with the Thirteenth Amendment, the constitutional provision outlawing slavery and involuntary servitude except as punishment for a crime.

Prior to his appointment at Pitt, Carter held professorial positions at the Temple University Beasley School of Law and Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he also earned his Juris Doctorate. He completed his bachelor’s degree at Bowling Green State University.

Carter said that although he is waiting until after he arrives on campus and is able to collaborate with faculty and staff to formulate a concrete plan for the law school’s future, he has already thought about areas of work he would like to pursue as dean based on his current knowledge of the law school.

“One priority will be making sure both in terms of curriculum and administrative support we are doing the best job we can to prepare students for job searches in the legal sector,” Carter said.

To this end, he hopes to maintain strong communication with elements of the local and regional legal community, including the judiciary, legal employers and bar associations.

Carter said he also hopes to increase diversity in the law school among both faculty and the student body.

Some members of the Pitt Law community see Carter’s hiring as a progressive step for the law school on this front.

“I’m excited because he’s black,” Pitt law student Jennifer Saint-Preux said. “I think it marks a good time in terms of Pitt law school branching out in terms of diversity.”

Carter similarly sees his appointment as a positive reflection on the University’s openness. .

“I certainly think it’s an honor, and I hope it will project a statement about the commitment of Pitt’s law school to equal opportunity,” he said.

Carter was selected from a pool of 40 applicants to assume the deanship. A selection committee consisting of law school faculty, staff, students and related associates lowered the number of candidates for the position to 10 and put those applicants through two rigorous rounds of interviews.

“It was a very long and thoughtful process,” said Linda Tashbook, the law school’s staff representative on the dean search committee.

Tashbook said it was Carter’s overwhelming enthusiasm for the position that set him apart.

When Carter entered his first interview with the selection committee, he brought in a copy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that contained an article about the law school’s new Innovation Practice Institute. According to a recent Pitt Chronicle article, the Innovation Practice Institute trains lawyers to be effective counselors in business, but particularly in innovation — start-ups, early-stage ventures and innovation spin-offs. The institute’s aim is to integrate the innovation culture into the study and practice of law.

“He told us, ‘If I was dean, this article would be in The Washington Post, The New York Times,’” Tashbook said. “We loved his energy and his quick ideas. He wanted to be our advocate, to yell our message from the rooftops.”

Tashbook said when looking for the next law school dean, the search committee wanted someone who desired not just any deanship, but specifically the Pitt deanship.

Carter said that was his intention when applying.

“Pitt was the only [deanship] I was really interested in enough to pursue,” Carter said. “I knew of the scholarship and writing of the Pitt law school faculty. And there are shared values I hold with the University in terms of involvement with students and maintaining a learning environment centered on students.”

Joanne Epps, the dean at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, gave her soon-departing employee a glowing review.

“He’s got a great winning smile, and it always seems as if he’s off to some new project,” Epps said. “He is easygoing and caring about students and their futures.”

Epps said that during Carter’s time at Temple, he was asked to lead the school’s hiring efforts and worked with the Beasley faculty on issues of faculty development. She added that he demonstrated effective leadership in those executive roles.

“He’s a great example of someone who is inspirational but also practical at the same time,” she said.

Another goal for Carter is to raise the bar exam passage rate at Pitt.

“The bar passage rate [for law students at Pitt] is above the state average, but it could be better, and it should be better,” Carter said.

In July 2011, 188 Pitt Law students took the Pennsylvania bar exam. Of those test-takers, 82.45 percent passed the exam, according to the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners. The overall passage rate for the Pennsylvania bar exam last year was 79.81 percent.

In comparison, the 244 students from Temple’s Beasley School of Law who took the exam produced a passage rate of 88.11 percent, the second-highest passage rate for any school on the Pennsylvania bar exam.

Carter believes that his extensive experience in academia and his knowledge of the state of affairs for the legal community at large will allow him to act as a bridge for students between academia and the world beyond the ivory tower.

Pitt law student Emily Harper was glad to hear from friends on the search committee that Carter plans to implement new innovative programs at Pitt.

“In that regard, I’m excited about the new dean,” Harper said. “That he’ll make Pitt relevant in that sense.”

Carter also wants to take advantage of the law school’s connection to the larger Pitt community.

“We need to make sure that, at the law school, we do what we can to maximize the opportunities presented by being part of a large research university,” he said.

Outside of teaching, Carter enjoys photography and collecting vinyl records. He brings with him to Pittsburgh his wife Abigail Horn and two daughters, Rebecca, 7, and Hannah, 4.

“You’re always concerned when moving a family,” said Carter, who grew up in nearby Cleveland. “But they’re all very excited about Pittsburgh.”