The university is starting the search for a new law school dean as dean Thomas Geu recently announced he will be stepping down from the position. Geu will serve as dean of the law school until a new dean is hired.
Geu has been a member of the law school faculty for 29 years, first becoming interim dean of the law school in 2011 and then dean of the law school in 2013.
Challenges and successes
While the law school has discussed changes in the last year, Geu said there have been many ups and downs over his 29 years in the law school, making his job a “magnificent challenge.”
“I think we’ve turned a corner this year,” Geu said. “I think that things are looking up, and it’s a good time to transition to a new leader.”
Most recently, after the law school relocation task force decided not to move the law school to Sioux Falls and to keep the law school on campus in Vermillion, the South Dakota Legislature approved $3,000,000 of funding to the USD law school’s operations fund.
Geu said the funding will go towards new programming in distance education and law students in Sioux Falls.
“The new programming will be in distance education but also in a new legal compliance program for law students first in Sioux Falls,” Geu said. “That’s where the externships are in those areas. It’ll be in health law, banking law and trust law. We’ll start up one of those next spring semester.”
Geu said finding funding for certain law school students was a challenge and that the task force found a solution to provide more funding to out-of-state students with the 15×15 scholarship program. This program allocates $15,000 of scholarship a year for all three years of law school, for a total of $45,000 provided to that student.
“Being a dean’s a journey. Coming in, we knew we needed to do,” Geu said. “I’m pleased with the faculty, with the students and the staff and their adaptability and willingness to help make a few changes that modernized the law school.”
Morgan Nelson, third-year law school student and outgoing Student Bar Association president, said Geu faced a “very difficult situation in his position.”
“(Geu) fights for opportunities for students and he works with our state bar to incorporate the vision of graduates and the vision of students,” Nelson said. “Unfortunately sometimes it’s hard to do that as part of, from my perspective, it would be hard to (do) that in a greater university.”
Nelson said that Geu “does what he can to make (things) happen.”
“I would say that this past year with the culmination of the task force, (Geu) makes everybody feel welcome. He walks the halls a lot and says hi when he gets a chance,” Nelson said. “He’s very approachable, he’s very genuine.”
Garrett Keegan, first-year law school student and SGA senator, said Geu’s approachable personality stands out.
“He’s just an approachable individual, and I think that has driven a lot more students specifically from South Dakota State, they want to go to law school at USD,” Keegan said.
Finding a replacement
USD President James Abbott said the first step of the search committee for a new dean of the law school was to hire a chair of the committee.
“I have Sheila Gestring, vice president of finance as chair of the committee so she will pull it all together. Faculty need to be heavily involved in the search process and in the interviewing,” Abbott said. “It will have a little period of time where not much will seem to be happening but I’ve asked law school faculty members to indicate whether they would like to be a member of the search committee”
Abbott also appointed a search consultant who specializes in law school dean searches to assist with the hiring.
“I have a search consultant who specializes in law school dean searches and (they’ll) be working at the beginning of the summer,” Abbott said. “By the time everyone is back and the new president is appointed, they can move forward with interviews and appoint a new dean.”
Abbott said Geu is a “great leader” and the school needs to hire someone who is adaptable.
“I think we need a great leader, I think we need somebody who can review the legal education landscape because there are a lot of changes going on the legal profession,” Abbott said.
Abbott said Geu is interactive with many students.
“I think Dean Geu is a good thinker, I think he interacted quite a bit with students and I also think he’s a good teacher. My sense is that he’s opened other worlds in many ways,” Abbott said.
Geu said the next person who takes on the role of dean of the law school has an important position.
“We have such a supportive state bar and such a supportive judiciary. Being the only law school in the state, we have a very special relationship that hardly any law school in the state has,” Geu said. “I guess the real piece of advice I would give (them) other than ‘have fun’ would be to continue to nurture those relationships.”