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Akron Law’s new dean discusses his goals

SHERRY KARABIN
Legal News Reporter

Published: June 14, 2017

It’s been less than a year since Matthew Wilson stepped down as dean of The University of Akron School of Law in July 2016 to take on the role of interim president of the university. Since then, his role has been filled by Interim Co-Deans Ryan Vacca and Sarah M.R. Cravens.

But on June 15 Christopher J. (C.J.) Peters, law professor and outgoing associate dean for faculty scholarship at the University of Baltimore School of Law, will officially take the helm as dean.

The University of Akron Board of Trustees approved his appointment on April 19 following a national search. Wilson, who became president of the university in October 2016, said he believes Peters has the experience needed to continue to advance the law school.

“I believe that Christopher will bring more innovative ideas to the law school and enhance the phenomenal opportunities that already exist for our students,” said Wilson. “He is genuinely interested in the school, has a wealth of teaching experience, has served as associate dean and works well with faculty.

“Enrollment is up substantially and a lot of new changes are taking place so I believe the table is set for his success,” said Wilson. “I am ready to offer any assistance that he might need in making the transition.”

“The University of Akron School of Law was very attractive to me for a variety of reasons,” said Peters. “It is one of the few law schools in the country that is in solid financial condition despite the general turbulence in the legal education market.

“There is also a wonderful feeling of engagement and excitement among the faculty and staff who are working hard to ensure the institution’s success,” said Peters. “I am very excited about the potential to build on the work that has already been done so that I can ensure that the law school continues to thrive.”

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Peters grew up in Richland, Michigan, graduating from Gull Lake High School.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history from Amherst College in Massachusetts, he returned to Michigan, where he got his juris doctor at the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor in 1992.

He began his legal career as an associate at Latham & Watkins in Chicago.

“After three years at the firm, I decided I wanted to try my hand at teaching,” said Peters. “I got a teaching fellowship at the University of Chicago Law School and I taught legal writing for two years.”

He met his wife, Trish Webster, while he was teaching as a Bigelow Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School in 1996.

Peters said it quickly became apparent that he enjoyed teaching so he moved back to Detroit and embarked on a tenure-track position at Wayne State University Law School. During his 12 years at the law school, he did a one-year stint as interim associate dean for academic affairs.

When he left in 2009 to go to the University of Baltimore, he was an associate professor.

At the University of Baltimore, Peters became a full professor and primarily taught constitutional law and federal civil procedure. In 2015, he took on the role of associate dean for faculty scholarship.

Peters said he applied for the job at Akron Law because he was ready to take the next step in his career.

“I am the kind of person who embraces new challenges both professionally and personally,” said Peters, 50. “I believe this a critical time in legal education and I am looking forward to contributing to the progress of the institution.

“My wife’s entire family is from northeast Ohio so the job is personally attractive to me since it will allow us to be closer to family.”

At the top of his agenda as dean, he said, is to ensure that the law school’s solid financial position continues.

“Much like President Wilson when he was dean, I plan to be very hands-on in recruiting students from northeast Ohio and out of state,” said Peters. “To attract students we will be paying particular attention to outcomes, including continuing our innovative bar prep program, providing experiential learning opportunities and assisting students in getting good jobs.”

He said the law school would continue to reach out to alumni and the legal community to help prepare students, enhance learning and assist with post-graduate placement.

Peters said he will be expanding the school’s existing non-J.D. degree and certificate programs, which currently include a Master of Studies in Law, an LL.M. in Intellectual Property and a non-J.D. certificate in Intellectual Property.

“The expansion of these programs will most likely include one or more fully online components,” said Peters. “Some of the online offerings may also filter into the J.D. program. Online components will help us expand the school’s reach.”

Peters said another key goal is to improve the visibility of the school and its faculty by using social media and other means to make the public aware of high-profile events and faculty scholarship activities.

“I will support faculty doing relevant work and make sure that they are being seen and read,” he said. “The School of Law already hosts a number of interesting events and I will continue to build on those with high-profile speakers that address hot-button legal and political topics.”

He said the school and its professors must work to find innovative ways to deliver educational content to today’s students.

Peters is also doing his part to help make an Akron Law degree even more affordable, establishing the Judge Donald T. Anderson Endowed Scholarship for Akron Law students.

“The scholarship pays tribute to the legacy of my late grandfather, who was a longtime trial judge in Michigan,” said Peters. “I hope that its recipients will be inspired by my grandfather’s dedication to public service and concern for the practical impact of the law.”

Interim Co-Dean and associate professor of law Cravens said Peters is an excellent choice for dean.

“I think he will do a lot of good things for the law school. I think he is giving a lot of thought and deliberation to what he wants to do as dean,” said Cravens, who will continue to teach at Akron Law once Peters takes the helm as dean.

“He wants to ensure that we continue on the same positive trajectory, while at the same time implementing some of his own ideas.”

Interim Co-Dean Vacca concurs. “I think C.J. is a great fit. He’s thoughtful and very caring.

“He wants the best for our students and our alumni,” said Vacca, who is leaving Akron Law at the end of June to teach at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. “Over the past year, Sarah and I have tried to keep our forward momentum going by implementing the initiatives begun by then-Dean Wilson.

“We’ve left C.J. in a good position to continue the school’s excellent educational traditions.”


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