UB's next law school dean to burnish school's image

Closius, former dean at U. of Toledo, is chosen from among 12 candidates

February 15, 2007|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun reporter

The next dean of the University of Baltimore law school will be Phillip J. Closius, a former law dean at the University of Toledo, officials said yesterday.

A formal announcement is expected today.

Closius will start his new job July 4, replacing the popular Gilbert Holmes, who has held the post since 2001.

"We looked for someone who had significant experience, and in Phil's case, he had a very successful run at Toledo in terms of good hiring and increasing student quality," said UB President Robert L. Bogomolny.

Closius, 56, was selected after a national search that brought 12 candidates to Baltimore to interview before a faculty-led search committee.

He takes over the 80-year-old law school at a period of transition for the urban university. UB is expanding its undergraduate program from two to four years, and is in the midst of a branding initiative designed to broaden the school's appeal beyond its traditional programs aimed at working adults.

More than a fifth of UB's 4,800 students are law students, and the law school has many prominent alumni, including former Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and Orioles owner Peter Angelos.

Still, university administrators and faculty believe the school's reputation needs bolstering. It is ranked in the "fourth tier" of American law schools by U.S. News & World Report, and in recent years saw a substantial drop in student passing rates on the state bar exam.

Closius said improving the school's image will be among his top priorities. "One of the things I like to think of myself as being pretty good at is marketing," he said. "The University of Baltimore is doing a lot of great stuff, and we need to get the message out."

When he became dean at the University of Toledo in Ohio in 1999, the law school was also ranked in the fourth tier by U.S. News, but it jumped to the second tier by 2004.

At UB, the picture has been mixed. While the law school has become more selective, bar exam passing rates sank from 74 percent in 2001 to about 57 percent in 2005, or 15 points below the state average, according to the Internet Legal Research Group, which tracks such figures.

In 2006, bar passing rates rebounded to near the state average, UB officials said, the result of increased attention to exam preparation.

Pact not renewed

Despite Closius' success at Toledo, his contract was not renewed in 2005. He was offered a one-year administrative position, then returned to the regular teaching faculty, where he started his academic career in 1979.

The "controversial demotion," as the Toledo Blade newspaper called it, was met with an outcry from some Toledo faculty, and was reportedly caused by Closius' demand for an increase in his roughly $190,000 salary.

Closius said yesterday that his demotion had less to do with his salary request than with the university's decision to shift financial resources toward the sciences, and away from the liberal arts. He will be making about $260,000 a year in Baltimore, he said.

While praising Closius as a good choice, Holmes, the law school's first black leader, said he regretted that the university did not select another person of color. More than 15 percent of UB's law students are minorities.

`A lot of energy'

The 10-person search committee's recommendation of Closius was approved by a vote of the law faculty in December. "He has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and drive and charisma," said law Professor Elizabeth Samuels, who chaired the panel.

Closius received his law degree from Columbia University in 1975, and practiced law in New York for several years. In Ohio, he specialized in constitutional, First Amendment and sports law, and also represented professional athletes in salary negotiations.

He expects to move here in June with his wife and infant son, and live in North Baltimore.

A die-hard New York Yankees fan, Closius said he looks forward to the company of thousands of likeminded enthusiasts who flock to Camden Yards when the Bronx Bombers come to town. "The faculty members that I've talked to said I wouldn't have to worry about wearing my Yankee apparel," he said with a laugh.

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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