Neil Fulton, a Miller, S.D. native, was named as the USD School of Law Dean last month.
Fulton will start his position in June. Fulton is a federal public defender, South Dakota Bar Examiner and former Chief of Staff to then Gov. Michael Rounds.
Fulton said joining the law school staff was something he was looked forward to because of the passion he has for South Dakota.
“Well it was very exciting obviously, the original thoughts when I was asked by the president was sort of being overwhelmed, thrilled and amazed,” Fulton said. “But the actual announcement ceremony itself was wonderful; it was wonderful to see the excitement in the law school, students and faculty about what is going on with the law school, and being formally introduced to be a part of that was just tremendously exciting.”
Fulton said he has served South Dakota in many capacities and is looking forward to working with the next generations of lawyers.
“My whole professional career has been in South Dakota, serving South Dakota, it’s my home state, it’s my wife’s home state, it’s just something I care passionately about, the state and its future,” he said. “Being a part of what USD law school is doing for South Dakota and surrounding communities for the future is really a wonderful opportunity.”
Fulton said there’s “exceptional work being done” in the law school and he wants to help showcase its story.
“My first year (I want) to help the law school tell its story better. I have been an advocate my whole career and I feel like the law school needs someone to advocate for it out there in the world,” Fulton said. “There’s a lot of great stuff going on in the law school…. (the story) has kind-of been lost in a lot of the noise that surrounded legal education in general because a lot of what’s impacted USD law school negatively is impacting law schools all across the country.”
Currently, Dean Tom Geu is managing day-to-day operations of the law school, and Fulton has taken on the responsibilities of as working with admitted students and alumni.
“Dean Geu is very graciously sort of stepping back from a lot of the public aspects and letting me do these fun things,” Fulton said. “What I have taken the time to do is kind of button up things in the federal defenders’ office and close up responsibilities there, go around get a chance to meet with student leaders, faculty members (and) certainly getting a huge amount of material thrown my way to read to kind of understand the law school operations in an important way and really get my feet planted before I take over here once graduation’s over.”
Words of wisdom
Geu said he will be transitioning back into a faculty position to complete more research after his deanship ends.
“Being dean of the University of South Dakota School of Law has been a privilege and a high honor. I think I said elsewhere that it’s been a magnificent challenge, it’s been one of the most satisfying jobs I’ve ever held,” Geu said. “I really miss the classroom, I miss research and I’ve been dean for almost twice as long as the average deanship is in these times.”
He is excited to watch Fulton step into this role and see what he can bring to the law school, Geu said.
“I’m excited for Mr. Fulton and I’m excited for the law school. I think that his skill set and background is just what the law school needs at this time,” Geu said. “I think he is very well suited and I’m excited to have him as my dean.”
Geu said law school students are the biggest motivator during challenging times.
“My advice would be to try and have as much fun as you can,” he said. “Never forget on the days when things are very challenging you can go downstairs and visit with students and most of the gnashing of teeth will go away because students are why we are here.”
The transition process began as soon as Fulton was announced, and Geu is showing him the challenges the law school faces.
“The transition is going smoothly and I hope giving him time to come up to speed and kind of emphasize working on different pieces as opposed to coming in cold,” Geu said.
Tyler Sobczak, a first-year law school student, said having a dean from South Dakota is important.
“The first time I met him, I was extremely pleased with how he took the time to meet every single person that was there and truly you could tell was attempting to memorize every single name, really cared and I was mostly happy that our new dean is localized,” Sobczak said. “Whereas we’re not extraditing someone from a different state and you could tell he wanted to be here.”
Cash Anderson, a first-year law school student, has known Fulton his whole life and trusts he will move the law school forward.
“He was very charismatic, he has big visions for the law school and I think that’s pretty exciting and pretty important for where we are right now. This is kind of a crucial time in USD law and we need good leadership going into it,” Anderson said.
Garrett Keegan, a second-year law school student, said the dean transition process is going well.
“I ran into Neil at Hy-Vee once and have seen him all over Vermillion it seems like. It seems like he’s doing a really good job acclimating to Vermillion. I think Dean Geu’s excited to get back into the classroom and get back to teaching,” Keegan said.
Overall, Fulton said that he is looking forward to his time in Vermillion.
“Molly and my boys and I are excited to come down there and be a part of the community and USD,” Fulton said. “Go Yotes!”