It’s the tale of two deans — one former, one current. A former dean staying at the same university is uncommon, almost as uncommon as an outsider taking over the spot.
Neil Fulton transitioned into his new role as Law School Dean over the summer, as former Dean Thomas Geu is working back into his position as a professor.
Geu served as Dean from 2011 until stepping down in spring of 2019. A month later, Fulton, formerly a public defender for Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, was hired.
Passing his duties to Fulton was easy, and he’s done a great job in his short time as dean, Geu said.
“The transition out of being dean took about 10 minutes… and he’s already a great dean,” Geu said. “He’s hit the ground running, he’s enthusiastic, smart, he is a hard worker. He just knows the practice of law well.”
Fulton had no academic experience before stepping into the role of dean. An outsider’s perspective is something the law school needed, Geu said. Geu served as law school dean for eight years but has spent the entirety of his professional career at the USD Law School. The dean before Geu served for nearly 20 years.
“The transition out of being dean took about 10 minutes… and he’s already a great dean.”
“I had been dean for eight years… and I had accomplished about as much as I could,” Geu said. “It was a good juncture for school… It was time for somebody new.”
Fulton never imagined becoming dean, but when the opportunity arose, he said it was too great of an opportunity to pass.
“The first time I brought up to my wife, she thought it was a little crazy,” Fulton said. “I’m just so happy with my decision though. It’s been a great decision for us and I hope it’s a great decision for USD.”
South Dakota is important to Fulton and his family, he said. Although he went away for college, it’s where he’s spent his professional career. That, and USD’s School of Law serving as the state’s lone law school inspired him to apply.
“If you look at the history of the school, the leaders of South Dakota and surrounding communities have come through USD and particularly USD law school,” Fulton said. “I just don’t think you can write the history of our state without USD law school.”
Although untraditional, having the former dean remain at the university has been very helpful, Fulton said. Geu serves as a resource to answer questions and give advice when needed. Geu said he helps Fulton from a distance, giving reminders, not orders.
“I see my primary job as providing information when he asks for it and staying out of his hair,” Geu said. “We don’t want to drop any balls, so the communications that originate from me are frequently just reminders. He’s the Dean, and he understands that and I certainly understand that.”
In his first year, Fulton is focused on becoming comfortable with an academic year and getting to know the students he serves, he said.
“Being able to have a hand in forming that next generation of lawyers to be professional, courteous and healthy is important,” Fulton said. “There are so many opportunities, and I’m reminded that the law is alive with possibilities.”