Schmoke named dean of law school

Howard University taps former city mayor to fill post

job starts in Jan.

October 16, 2002|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Kurt L. Schmoke, a Harvard-trained lawyer who served three terms as mayor of Baltimore, was named dean of the Howard University School of Law yesterday - adding a high-profile academic position to his long record of achievements.

Howard President H. Patrick Swygert announced the appointment of Schmoke, who was the first African-American elected mayor of Baltimore, at a news conference in Washington yesterday.

Schmoke, 52, will step into his new role as head of the nation's best-known historically black law school Jan. 1

"It sounds like a wonderful opportunity," Schmoke said. "It's very exciting. For me the biggest attraction was to become involved in work that helps to nurture the next generation of leaders."

The appointment will return Schmoke to a role of public prominence for the first time since leaving City Hall in December 1999. With its location in the nation's capital, Howard University has long been a hub of African-American political activity and social advocacy.

Larry S. Gibson, Schmoke's longtime political adviser and a University of Maryland law professor, said the former mayor is "the right person for this position."

"I think it's a real coup for Howard, and I think Kurt will enjoy it and make a significant contribution," said Gibson, an alumnus of the university.

"The dean of Howard University law school plays an important role not just at Howard University, but in the legal community on issues relating to civil rights and racial justice," Gibson said.

Schmoke said that he will continue to live in Baltimore, where his wife is an eye doctor, and commute to Washington.

Gibson noted that Howard's most famous law school graduate, former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, also commuted from Baltimore to Washington while he attended law school.

Schmoke will also become the public face of the law school at a time when it is preparing for intense national publicity.

Orlando Taylor, dean of Howard's graduate school and head of the search committee that chose Schmoke, noted that the university will soon be commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation decision - a civil rights victory in which Marshall and the law school were prominent.

Taylor said he expects Schmoke to play a leading role representing the university during the anniversary celebrations.

Schmoke was chosen from among "a large and highly competitive pool of applicants," Taylor said. He said Schmoke's experience in public office was only one of his qualifications, pointing to his law practice and record as a board member at Yale University, Tuskegee University and other institutions of higher learning.

"You see a person who has been a leader at every stop, and that's the kind of person we wanted as a law school dean," Taylor said.

Schmoke's leadership role extends to his high school days at City College, where he quarterbacked an undefeated football team in 1966 and was elected student council president in 1967.

He graduated from Yale before going on to Oxford University, where he studied as a Rhodes Scholar, and Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1976. He then joined the Baltimore law firm of Piper & Marbury.

In 1982, after stints in the Carter White House and the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore, Schmoke defeated incumbent State's Attorney William A. Swisher in a historic victory over the city's traditional white-dominated political organizations.

Six years later, after William Donald Schaefer left City Hall to become governor, Schmoke defeated Schaefer successor Clarence Du Burns - the former City Council president who, in filling out Schaefer's term, had become Baltimore's first black mayor.

Schmoke compiled a mixed record during his dozen years as mayor. He was praised for, among other things, demolishing the city's blighted high-rise public housing projects.

But critics accused him of failing to demonstrate leadership in the city's struggle against crime and other problems.

Polls nonetheless showed that Schmoke remained personally popular as he completed his third term in 1999. His decision not to seek re-election led to a three-way Democratic primary battle won by then-City Councilman Martin O'Malley.

Since leaving office, Schmoke has practiced law at the firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Baltimore. He said yesterday it was one of his partners there, John Payton, who heard about the Howard search and suggested that Schmoke give the position serious consideration.

Schmoke replaces Alice Gresham Bullock, who is returning to teaching after five years as dean.

The former mayor said his main task will be improving the law school - broadening its funding base and expanding its international role.

Schmoke also acknowledged that one role of the Howard law dean is to be a national opinion leader.

"Part of that legacy is speaking out from time to time on important public policy issues. But that will not be the primary focus of my activity," he said.

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