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University of Iowa College of Law dean resigns

IOWA CITY — Adding turnover at the top of the University of Iowa’s 12 colleges is Kevin Washburn, who is leaving his post as dean of the College of Law in December after six years on campus.

The university’s longest-serving dean Donald E. Letendre — after leading the College of Pharmacy for 17 years — will officially end his tenure Friday, with new pharmacy dean Jill M. Kolesar starting Monday.

With Washburn’s departure, 10 of the 12 UI deans will have started within the last six years, eight will have started since 2020 and four will have started in the last year.

Kevin Washburn, dean of the University of Iowa College of Law since 2018, will step down at the end of the year, effective December 31, 2024. (University of Iowa)

“The university will miss Dean Washburn’s leadership at the helm of the college, but I fully support his future endeavors,” UI Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel said in a statement. “He has had a profoundly positive impact on the college and university, navigating expertly through many challenges.”

After Washburn steps down on Dec. 31, he will “return to the classroom and his research.” UI officials did not immediately say whether Washburn would join the UI faculty or leave campus.

A citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, Washburn earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma and his JD from Yale Law School in 1993. He was Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Indians in Michigan from 2008 to 2011 and served as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the US Department of the Interior during the Obama administration from 2012 to 2016.

He captained the Department of Interior Agency Review Team for the Biden-Harris Transition in Washington, DC from August 2020 to January 2021 – while serving as UI Dean.

“Lead a team of 13 professionals that met daily for more than six weeks and held hundreds of meetings with thousands of stakeholders, ultimately producing more than 50 planning memoranda in less than eight weeks,” Washburn wrote of his time in that position on his resume.

As of October 2021 – and ongoing – Washburn reports serving as director and trustee of qualified settlement trusts connected to opioid litigation.

“Selected by federal district court and bankruptcy court judges to create trusts and direct the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars of settlement funds arising from opioid litigation against Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and several other defendants to tribal governments to prevent and reduce opioid problems in tribal communities across the country ,” according to Washburn’s resume.

He “remains an active scholar, continues to publish research during his tenure as dean, and co-teaches a course on federal Indian law,” according to the university’s announcement of his resignation.

He most recently published an article in 2021 on the Social Science Research Network — an open access research platform — titled “Facilitating Tribal Co-Management of Federal Public Lands.”

“I am especially grateful that he will end his tenure as dean with the College’s most successful faculty hiring season in many years, with eight new faculty joining the College in 2024-25,” UI Provost Kregel said in a statement.

The UI College of Law reported a faculty total of 114 last fall, down slightly from 123 the year before but above the 97 when he started in 2018. Enrollment in the College of Law’s Juris Doctor professional program reached 492 in fall 2023, on par with the past few years and up from 422 in 2018.

His College of Law reported $1.6 million in external research awards in the last fiscal year — more than any year in the past decade but the lowest among the university’s colleges.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve as dean at Iowa Law, and I am grateful to the faculty, staff, alumni and students who have helped me succeed in this role,” Washburn said in a statement. “We are in the midst of an ambitious capital campaign and I plan to ‘run the belt’ so that my successor will have strong resources to continue the momentum of the ‘Writing Law School.’

Listed among Washburn’s accomplishments while dean developed a “Writing Law School” vision for the college — expand its legal analysis, writing and research faculty; adapting its 35-year-old writing center; and increase their writing and editing courses.

UI College Law did not make the 2024 US News & World Report list of “best legal writing programs,” topped by the University of Oregon. The University of Iowa is ranked No. 36 among “best law schools”, tie with fellow Big Ten universities of Wisconsin and Illinois.

“Washburn also helped develop an ambitious new environmental law program known as the Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative,” according to the university.

On Thursday, Kregel named Graduate College Dean Amanda Haertling Thein and Civil Law Professor and Chair Todd Pettys co-chairs of a search committee to replace Washburn.

They will lead a search committee of 10 – including eight with ties to the law school.

The university used the search firm WittKieffer to help fill the position.

University of Iowa college deans

Starting dates for the University of Iowa’s 12 college deans:

Daniel Clay, dean of the College of Education, started in July 2016

Julie Zerwic, dean of the College of Nursing, started in August 2017

Kevin Washburn, Dean of the College of Law, started in June 2018

Edith Parker, dean of the College of Public Health, started in June 2018

Tanya Uden-Holman, dean at the university, started in June 2018

Amy Kristof-Brown, dean of the College of Business, started in December 2020

Sara Sanders, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, started as interim in August 2020 before permanent appointment in 2021

Amanda Thein, dean of the Graduate College, started in May 2021

Clark Stanford, dean of the College of Dentistry, started in April 2022

Denise Jamison, dean of the College of Medicine, started in August 2023

Ann McKenna, dean of the College of Engineering, started in August 2023

Jill M. Kolesar, dean of the College of Pharmacy, will begin Monday, July 15, 2024

Source: University of Iowa

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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