Mary Crossley resigns as dean

By Gwenn Barney

After seven years at the helm of Pitt’s School of Law, Dean Mary Crossley announced this week… After seven years at the helm of Pitt’s School of Law, Dean Mary Crossley announced this week that she will resign from her position as dean next July, to fulfill her wish to return to teaching and research within Pitt full time.

“The Law School has accomplished many of the things that we set as objectives early in my deanship,” Crossley said. “As a result, I think that now is a good time for a transition in leadership to a new dean, who will be able to build on the progress we have made and to identify new goals for the school.”

The search for a new dean has not yet begun because of the recentness of the resignation, Law School Associate Dean of Students Kevin Deasy said, adding that Crossley brought much to the University.

“I found her very easy to work with,” Deasy said. “She’s accessible to students and caring about students and people who work at the law school. I’m sorry to see her leaving the deanship.”

Many students in the law school were surprised when they heard news of Crossley’s decision through an e-mail from the school.

Sam Hornak, a third-year law student who worked closely with Crossley in his role as class president to select a commencement speaker for this year’s graduating class, said the dean is “no-nonsense,” but deeply cares about the student population.

“She’s extremely organized and down-to-business,” Hornak said. “But also with a friendly face.”

He believes that Crossley possessed a respect and concern for students in the law school that will be missed when she leaves the position.

“She’s been great to work with,” Hornak said. “She really cares about student input and the student voice at Pitt Law School.”

Crossley introduced a number of initiatives during her time as dean. Among these initiatives was a revision of the first-year curriculum, which will take effect to begin the 2011-12 academic year.

“She put more of an emphasis on including classes that focus on practical skills students will need as practicing lawyers,” Deasy said. “They were excellent changes to move the curriculum toward being realistic to the challenges a lawyer faces in practice and away from the theoretical approach.”

Crossley, who has taught classes and published work every year she has been dean, was also instrumental in creating Pitt School of Law’s Washington, D.C., program. The program provides students with the opportunity to spend a semester in the capital, where they can participate in externships in government agencies and nonprofit organizations while building career connections.

“She’s been very supportive of creating opportunities for students to get that experience and to job-network,” Deasy said.

She will still continue to teach at the school, something she didn’t get as much of a chance to do during her time as dean.

“With the administrative responsibilities of being dean, I have taught only one course a year. As a law faculty member for 15 years before becoming dean, I loved teaching, and I look forward to once again being able to devote a large portion of my professional time to it.”

In addition to her work on student-aimed initiatives, Crossley participated in work as dean to positively impact the larger Pittsburgh community.

Two years ago, she worked with Pitt faculty to form Pitt’s Innovation Practice Institute. The Institute supports research innovation and economic growth across the region by providing lawyers trained to work with regional innovative businesses.

“She’s enhanced Pitt’s reputation through engagement with the community,” Hornak said.

Crossley’s impact went well beyond her effect on students. She was a strong supporter of research among the law school faculty members.

“She has encouraged and supported faculty research in all the meaningful senses, with resources and by spotlighting the good work our faculty does,” Associate Dean of Research David Harris said.

Harris said that the role of a dean is to find what students and faculty are skilled at and interested in and to foster those skills and interests. He believes Crossley filled that role well.

“She’s done a good job for us here,” he said. “We look forward to having her on our faculty.”