No Ivory Tower For Her

As Dean, Haddon To Involve Um Law School In The City

August 10, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

To Phoebe Haddon, diversity is more than a buzzword or a proud achievement to be plastered on a brochure. It's an absolute key to the subject that makes her tick.

Haddon, the new dean of the University of Maryland School of Law, loves to pick apart the history and meaning of our laws. Those conversations are far richer, she says, with input from the widest possible range of people.

"I think women bring new dimensions to thinking about the law, because we ask different questions," says Haddon, a fourth-generation lawyer whose family has advocated for civil rights for more than a century. "In the area of human rights and domestic problems, women have asked questions about a lack of equity that were simply not asked before."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Monday's editions about new University of Maryland law dean Phoebe Haddon gave the incorrect first name for University of Maryland law professor Michael Van Alstine.
The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Haddon, 58, who last month became one of a handful of black women in the nation to lead a law school, spent decades at Temple University pushing students to think about how race, gender and class shape legal opinions. She has served on numerous panels devoted to bringing more minorities and underprivileged students into law schools. She worked for government agencies that sought to rehabilitate urban neighborhoods.

Haddon's hiring comes 79 years after UM denied admission to Thurgood Marshall because he was black, leading Marshall to sue the school on behalf of another black student and setting him on the road to Brown v. Board of Education.

"It's historic for the state and for the law school that really was one of the first chinks in the armor that led to Brown v. Board of Education," said Maryland law professor Sherrilyn Ifill, who sat on the search committee that selected Haddon, of Haddon's hiring. "I don't think we should ignore that arc, because it says something about who we are as a state and how far we've come. At the same time, she was substantively an excellent candidate."

School leaders say they weren't looking for a reformer to replace longtime dean Karen Rothenberg, who helped lead Maryland into the top tier of law school rankings. Neither did they want a benign figure who would fail to rock boats. Friends describe Haddon as a charming consensus-builder who will push UM to take a more activist role in Baltimore.

That blend impressed the school's search committee.

"She obviously understood our values, and not just at the level of having read the brochure," says Jeff Van Alstine, who chaired the search committee. "We are a place that's entwined with a city, and her experience with a similar relationship in Philadelphia was very attractive."

Haddon envisions the law school extending its clinical practices to help city residents and getting more involved in policy issues affecting Baltimore. She took a few years off from Temple to work on urban redevelopment in Philadelphia and came to believe that academics are vital to cities.

"I believe universities are places where you can study problems and learn how to solve them," she says. For example, she says, the law school could have helped the city with its discrimination lawsuit against mortgage lender Wells Fargo.

To make sure she stays in touch, Haddon will live 10 blocks from the school and walk to work.

Haddon hails from a long line of lawyers, teachers and activists. Her great-grandfather was a lawyer in Hampton, Va., who founded a school for recently freed slaves in the late 19th century. Her grandfather practiced law in the same community, working for equal pay and access to public beaches for black residents, accepting payment in fish when his clients had no money during the Depression. Haddon knew their struggles through family stories and also felt the sting of segregation in her own childhood in Passaic, N.J.

Haddon's father, a dentist and leader of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and mother, an eighth-grade teacher, asked only that she excel and challenge injustice in the way that suited her best.

She went to Smith College, where professors pushed her to think of inequality not just in historical or emotional terms but in theoretical ways. At Duquesne University's law school in Pittsburgh, she discovered that she loved to study how law was taught.

"A lot of times, I really didn't care about who won a case," she says. "I really cared about how they got to the conclusion. It was amazing to me how many viewpoints could be brought to the discussion of a certain set of facts."

She clerked for a federal judge in Pittsburgh and practiced for a few years in Washington, but when Temple offered her a faculty position in 1981, Haddon didn't hesitate. In 28 years there, she mentored younger faculty members, mediated intramural disputes and pushed students to think about diversity.

Haddon had brushed past other offers to interview for dean positions, but Maryland felt like a place that she already knew.

"I came and I felt very comfortable," she says. "I didn't feel that I had to put on a performance."

Phoebe Haddon

Age: 58

Hometown: Passaic, N.J.

Education: B.A. from Smith College, 1972; J.D. from Duquesne University School of Law, 1977; Master of Laws (LL.M.) from Yale Law School, 1985

Work experience: Member of Temple Law faculty since 1981; worked on Philadelphia's Redevelopment Authority and Development Mortgage Assistance Corp. in late 1980s; practiced for two years at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington

Personal: Married to Temple law professor Frank McClellan, who will split his time between Philadelphia and Baltimore; has a daughter and two sons

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